The Twin Cities, home of the Mall of America, might now also be Law Firm Mergertown, USA.
Gray Plant Mooty, Minneapolis’ oldest continuing law practice, announced this week its acquisition of Hughes Mathew Greer, a three-lawyer firm based in nearby St. Cloud, Minnesota. The union is the latest legal services combination in the land of a thousand lakes, coming a week after Ballard Spahr agreed to absorb Minneapolis-based Lindquist & Vennum, the second merger in two weeks for the Philadelphia-based Am Law 100 firm.
The impetus for the tie-up between Hughes Mathew Greer and Gray Plant Mooty was the desire by the acquirer to strengthen its health care practice in and around Minneapolis, said Charles Maier, co-managing partner of 185-lawyer Gray Plant Mooty. Maier, who also co-chairs his firm’s litigation group, became head of Gray Plant Mooty in April 2015 alongside Sarah Duniway, co-chair of its nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations practice.
“We saw that as a good opportunity to combine their health care practice with our growing health care practice here in the Twin Cities,” said Maier (pictured right).
Originally founded in St. Cloud in 1934, Hughes Mathews Greer and its three remaining partners—Thomas Mathews, his son John Mathews and Kelly Larson—have long represented numerous health care clients, including serving as outside counsel for the CentraCare Health System, the largest health care group outside of the Minneapolis metropolitan area.
St. Cloud-based CentraCare paid $145,652 to Hughes Mathews Greer for legal services in 2012-13, according to a federal tax filing. The firm, which also specializes in business, contract and employment litigation, was not listed as among the registered nonprofit’s top five largest outside vendors in 2013-14 and 2014-15, the most recent years for which tax records are available.
Hughes Mathews Greer of counsel Kevin Hughes, like the elder Mathews a son of one of his firm’s founding partners, is semi-retired and will not join Gray Plant Mooty. The latter, besides its two Minnesota offices in Minneapolis and St. Cloud, also has outposts in Fargo, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C. Michael Sullivan Sr., an of counsel in Gray Plant Mooty’s home office, served as president and CEO of Dairy Queen from 1987 to 2001. He ceded leadership of the soft-serve ice cream giant to Charles “Chuck” Mooty, a son of late Gray Plant Mooty name partner John Mooty, whose two other sons, Bruce and David, are lawyers. (Bruce Mooty is a partner at Gray Plant Mooty, which advised Dairy Queen on its $585 million sale in 1998 to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.)
In 2015, the year of John Mooty’s death, Gray Plant Mooty ushered in a new era of firm leadership in Maier and Duniway, according to a story at the time by local legal publication Minnesota Lawyer. Gray Plant Mooty, founded in 1866, celebrated its 150th anniversary the following year. The firm’s lawyers have seen many other firms enter and exit Minnesota’s legal market, one that in recent years has seen a surge in merger activity.
On Jan. 1, 2011, Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson officially merged with Indianapolis-based Baker & Daniels, forming Faegre Baker Daniels. Two years later, Kansas City, Missouri-based Stinson Morrison Hecker and Minneapolis-based Leonard, Street and Deinard combined operations and formed Stinson Leonard Street. In late 2015, Fox Rothschild bolted on 82 lawyers in Minneapolis after absorbing Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, a move followed a few weeks later by another local firm, Bowman and Brooke, merging with Florida’s Seipp, Flick & Hosley. And last week Ballard Spahr entered the fray by acquiring 136-lawyer Lindquist & Vennum.
The American Lawyer reported in August on Minneapolis being a hot market for law firm mergers, although some leaders of large local firms remain lukewarm to the proposition of joining forces with a national suitor. Maier, Gray Plant Mooty’s current leader, is among them.
“I think we’re a little different than a Philadelphia firm trying to get a foothold in the Midwest,” Maier said, when asked about the spate of out-of-state firms setting up shop in the Twin Cities. “We’re looking really to strengthen the areas where we think we’re strong and health care is one of those areas.”
Maier said that Gray Plant Mooty’s positioning and size allows the firm to service client needs but also give clients, especially those in the middle-market, the personal attention they want.
“That’s the sweet spot that we’ve seen and we think there’s a real value to staying independent and being able to in essence control our own destiny,” Maier said.
Gray Plant Mooty has done small tie-ups before—the firm’s Fargo office was established in 2015 through its acquisition of Sandin Law—but Maier said his firm has no major merger moves on the horizon, although he admitted to receiving plenty of phone calls and interest from recruiters looking to broker deals with national firms.
“You never say never, and I think you have to continually as a managing officer ask those questions of yourself, [like] ‘Is there a reason to do something else?’” Maier said. “But right now our strategy is not to look for a partner like that.”