Merger fever is spreading across Florida, with three law firms announcing expansions Monday.
Fort Lauderdale-based Becker & Poliakoff, Tampa-based Carlton Fields and New Orleans-based Adams and Reese announced mergers on the first day of the fourth quarter for most law firms. Adams and Reese acquired a Tallahassee office, expanding its Florida presence to four offices.
National law firm consulting firm Altman Weil said these mergers are in keeping with a recent national trend among law firms to acquire boutique firms, with Florida in hot demand.
“Law firms continue to make acquisitions, but they are proceeding with a little more caution in 2012,” Altman Weil principal Tom Clay said in a statement. “Most of the deals we’re seeing are small, highly targeted moves to boost expertise or enhance geographic footprint. Firm leaders want to be sure they’re matching supply with demand to avoid diluting firm productivity even in the short term.”
The consulting firm says 39 law firm mergers were announced in the first nine months of the year — 14 in the first quarter, 11 in the second quarter and 14 in the third quarter.
Becker & Poliakoff, a longtime state leader in the field of condominium representation, signed off on two mergers Monday.
Joining the firm is a 12-member, Manassas, Virginia-based intellectual property firm. The six lawyers and six patent agents at Litman Law, including managing partner Richard Litman, gives Becker & Poliakoff its first Virginia office and a new practice area of intellectual property transactional work. Becker & Poliakoff already does IP litigation.
The firm also picked up Stuart-based Cornett, Googe & Associates, a four-lawyer firm specializing in community associations. Becker will close its one-lawyer office in Port St. Lucie and relocate that lawyer to the Stuart office. All four attorneys from the Cornett firm — Howard “Buddy” Googe, Jane Cornett, Robert Rydzewski and Michael Dermody — are joining Becker & Poliakoff. Googe and Cornett will join as shareholders.
Gary Rosen, managing partner of Becker & Poliakoff, said he has been working on the two mergers since he was appointed to head the 160-lawyer firm eight months ago.
“One of the things that’s exciting for us is to expand our IP practice beyond litigation and integrate the new firm with our existing IP practice and into our New York office,” Rosen said. “This presents tremendous opportunities for mergers and acquisition and corporate work. We are excited about expanding that footprint dramatically.”
For Litman, the merger means a return to his roots. The University of Miami law graduate said he “always wanted to come back.” He heard of Becker & Poliakoff in his law school days and was excited to start merger talks with Rosen.
“I look at the landscape in South Florida and see there is going to be growth in the biotech industry, with a South American connection,” he said. He added that the firm has attracted interest from clients in the Middle East.
“We have a number of university clients in other countries, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and they want to open businesses in the United States,” he said.
Litman will be the only new shareholder from his firm at Becker.
Scouting For Years
Carlton Fields, a 300-lawyer firm that is the fourth largest in the state by attorney count, will grow by six lawyers and add a New York City office — its eighth overall — after the acquisition of Rosner & Napierala. The firm will keep Rosner’s offices in the Standard Oil Building near Wall Street.
Carlton’s new shareholders in the office are Brian Rosner, a trial and appellate lawyer who serves as a receiver in several federal cases, and Natalie Napierela, a litigator who represents directors and officers in high-profile securities fraud and corporate malfeasance suits. Heather Haase, Elizabeth Luciano, Madelyn Spatt Shulman and Ildiko Szollosi will serve as of counsel.
Gary Sasso, Carlton’s president and CEO, said his firm has been scouting New York for an office for several years. The firm already has seven offices in Florida and one in Atlanta.
“As our firm has grown, our practice has grown and our lawyers are moving into New York, where we have a number of significant clients,” he said. “We were looking for the right fit and finally found it.”
Sasso said he was intrigued by the fact that Rosner & Napierela has skilled lawyers who represent Fortune 500 clients on high-profile matters yet is still a boutique firm.
“In a lot of small groups, you don’t find lawyers doing the kind of work they do,” he said. “We wanted to go into New York in a conservative way.”
Carlton will continue making strategic acquisitions in U.S. markets but does not plan to become a mega-firm with 1,000-plus lawyers, Sasso said.
Also on Monday, Adams and Reese announced a new office in Tallahassee, its 14th market, with the acquisition of Igler & Dougherty. The Southern firm already has offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota, as well as in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the District of Columbia. Fifty of the firm’s 300 lawyers are based in Florida.