Building off a record-setting year in 2017, the law firm merger market shows no signs of slowing down if the first quarter of 2018 is any indication, according to a March 30 report by legal consultancy Fairfax Associates.
There have been 20 tie-ups involving U.S. law firms within the first three months of this year, stated Fairfax, which counts combinations once they are completed. That number is slightly lower than the 22 mergers completed during the same time last year, but is still on par with historical averages, the report added.
Despite a fairly quiet cross-border merger market in the first few months of 2018, Fairfax principal Lisa Smith said that there continues to be a lot of interest in combinations that transcend national boundaries.
“We see an awful lot of interest from particularly U.K. firms continuing to look at the U.S. market, but U.S. firms also continuing to look at their international strategies,” Smith said. “I think that’s a continuing big trend.”
There have already been 13 announced mergers that are set to close in 2018. Of those deals, 10 are cross-border combinations. Bryan Cave and the U.K.’s Berwin Leighton Paisner are poised to finalize a union on March 31. The deal will create a 1,600-lawyer firm called Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner that will have an estimated total gross revenue of roughly $900 million.
The ever-expanding Dentons also recently announced plans to absorb the bulk of an Australian firm and snap up seven other smaller shops around the world. DLA Piper clinched its own acquisition of 60-lawyer Chilean firm Noguera, Larraín & Dulanto that will become effective in April. And Covington & Burling will open a Frankfurt office after absorbing a small German firm.
On the domestic front, many mergers completed within the first quarter were smaller or at the regional level. Nearly 75 percent of the firms involved had between five and 20 lawyers, according to Fairfax, with the largest purely domestic tie-up being between Ballard Spahr and Minneapolis-based Lindquist & Vennum, a union that became effective on Jan. 2.
“We see a mix of a lot of smaller firm acquisitions, many of which are smaller mid-sized firms combining with other smaller mid-sized firms,” Smith said.
A law firm merger database maintained by rival legal consultancy Altman Weil Inc., which counts merger deals when they are announced, lists a series of more modest combinations, such as Akerman’s absorption of Florida’s Ackerman Law Group, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney bagging an immigration firm in Miami, Dilworth Paxson picking up a small shop in Princeton, Fisher & Phillips finding a partner in Seattle and two tiny tie-ups by Milwaukee-based von Briesen & Roper.
And just like cross-border deals, there have already been several domestic mergers announced in 2018, including a looming tie-up between Andrews Kurth Kenyon and Hunton & Williams to create Hunton Andrews Kurth. That combination, which is set to go live on April 2, will have 1,000 lawyers across 15 U.S. offices and five globally. On Friday, Foley & Lardner and Texas-based Gardere Wynne Sewell confirmed their proposed nuptials on April 1.