John Hern Jr.
John Hern Jr. (Courtesy photo)

Detroit-founded Clark Hill expanded to the East Coast through a merger in 2013. Now the firm is heading west in the same way, as it is poised to announce its acquisition of Morris Polich & Purdy, a nearly 100-lawyer firm with offices in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

The union will create a firm with nearly 450 lawyers in 16 offices stretching coast to coast. Clark Hill, which ranked No. 167 on The Am Law Second Hundred, brought in $150.5 million in gross revenue last year and had 348 lawyers before its most recent merger, according to ALM Intelligence.

John Hern Jr., CEO of Clark Hill, said that if his firm had combined with Morris Polich last year, the combined entity would have brought in about $185 million in gross revenue, which would bump the firm up to around No. 150 in the Am Law 200 rankings.

The merger comes quickly on the heels of a record first half of 2017 for law firm mergers, according to legal consultancy Altman Weil Inc.’s MergerLine. There were 52 combinations announced through mid-year, topping the prior mid-year peak of 48 in 2015 and 2016.

For Clark Hill, the Morris Polich merger is the latest and one of the largest growth plays executed by the firm during Hern’s 15 years of leadership. The firm first cracked the Am Law 200 list three years ago when it booked $127.5 million in gross revenue for 2013.

That year, Clark Hill merged with Thorp Reed & Armstrong, a roughly 100-lawyer firm based in Pittsburgh, while also bolting on a small Phoenix shop called Folk & Associates. In 2012, the nine lawyers and other staff associated with Southfield, Michigan-based Kupelian, Ormond & Magy merged into Clark Hill. And last year Clark Hill expanded in Chicago by acquiring seven-lawyer litigation firm Martin, Brown, Sullivan, Roadman & Hartnett.

With the addition of Morris Polich, Clark Hill will add a group of litigators; a well-known life sciences practice; labor and employment lawyers; and a construction law practice. Clark Hill’s Hern said his firm will benefit from the merger not only by expanding into new markets but by adding bench strength in key practice areas.

Clark Hill was first motivated to head west about two years ago, Hern said, when one of the firm’s partners had a client move its headquarters from Michigan to San Diego. Hern first spoke with Morris Polich’s managing partner, Donald Ridge, last August about the idea of a union.

“We’ve lost a number of client opportunities due to the fact that we did not have a west coast presence,” Hern said.

Ridge (pictured right), who has been managing partner at Morris Polich since 2001, said his firm had been approached on multiple occasions by larger firms looking to acquire a group of lawyers. But the firm had resisted those overtures, often because the acquiring firms had a keen eye for Morris Polich’s life sciences practice but weren’t as committed to the firm’s other lawyers.

“It was the first time I walked away from a meeting saying I think I want another one,” said Ridge of his introduction to Clark Hill’s management.

Ridge said that Clark Hill’s leadership expressed two primary goals during the negotiations: To grow into an Am Law 100 firm and to be one of America’s 100 best places to work.

“If there’s a desire to still be recognized nationally as one of the best places to work, that was something that really sparked my interest,” Ridge said. “It’s a place we can go without losing our personality; without losing our values.”

Hern said that is a primary concern he has learned to address in the firm’s previous mergers. Lawyers can feel like they’ve lost control over their practices or careers during a merger, Hern said, and it is management’s responsibility to ensure that those lawyers instead feel empowered by the new opportunities presented by a combination.

Toward that end, Hern said Ridge will join Clark Hill’s executive committee and Morris Polich partner Beth Kahn in Los Angeles will co-lead the firm’s labor and employment practice.

“If you can share leadership and management responsibilities across the firm’s footprint and include your new partners into the leadership process, that goes a long way to help reducing that sense of loss of control,” Hern said.

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