Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and Tampa-based Fowler White Boggs are deep in merger talks, according to top management at both firms.
“Florida is a growth state and an important market for our firm and more importantly our clients,” Buchanan CEO John A. “Jack” Barbour said in a statement. “Fowler White enjoys a stellar reputation in Florida, and we have discussed with them how a combination would enhance both firms’ capabilities to service clients and further each of our strategic objectives. Discussions are ongoing, so it would be premature for me to speculate on the outcome.”
Fowler White chair and CEO Rhea Law confirmed the merger talks, saying Buchanan “has a very expansive number of practice groups and depth in those practice groups. So it’s a particularly interesting connection. We are dominant in Florida, and they are dominant in the Northeast, and those are fast-growing areas with good prospects.”
Another attraction with the proposed merger is Fowler White would gain a Miami office. When Fowler White Boggs split from Fowler White Burnett in the late 1960s, a lawsuit settlement stipulated that Fowler White Boggs could not open an office in Miami and Fowler White Burnett could not be in Tampa. A merger with Buchanan Ingersoll apparently would cure that conflict, and sources said they doubted Fowler White Burnett would pursue a challenge.
Sources say Buchanan Ingersoll and Fowler White Boggs began talking last summer, but they are still a couple months from any announcement. Partners at the firms have not voted on the merger, and a thorough vetting process is currently under,way.
The combined firm would have 550 lawyers. Buchanan Ingersoll has 450 lawyers in 15 offices primarily in the Northeast but also in Florida and California. The Florida offices are in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa.
Fowler White Boggs has 97 lawyers in five Florida offices: Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Tampa and Tallahassee.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Amy Levin, a recruiter with the Legal Group in Dania Beach. “Fowler White is a small firm, and Buchanan is a national firm. Both firms are looking at growth. This builds a full-service firm for Fowler White and provides an expansion into Florida for Buchanan.”
Sources said Fowler White has been looking to merge with a top law firm for at least a year. Previous talks with Memphis-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz fell apart for unknown reasons. More of a transactional law firm, Fowler White has struggled in recent years and lost numerous key partners in north Florida.
Buchanan Ingersoll is no stranger to large-scale mergers, though it has been a few years since the firm got into the merger circuit.
In 2005, Buchanan Ingersoll picked up intellectual property boutique Burns Doane Swecker & Mathis of Alexandria, Va., adding about 60 lawyers.
The firm expanded significantly in 2006 through its intrastate merger with Pittsburgh-based Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, adding about 250 lawyers, government affairs professionals and staff. That move briefly vaulted the firm into the Am Law 100 before it settled back into the Am Law 200 for the past five years.
Since then, the firm has added a few boutique firms, growing in San Diego in 2007 and adding litigation depth in Pittsburgh more recently.
In 2013, Buchanan Ingersoll was ranked 117th on the Am Law 200 with $265.5 million in gross revenue, $665,000 in profits per equity partner and $650,000 in revenue per lawyer.
Buchanan Ingersoll has had a presence in South Florida since 1990. The firm recently moved its Aventura office to downtown Fort Lauderdale to be closer to its client base.
Joe Altonji, a law firm consultant for Chicago-based LawVision Group, said he would not be surprised if the firms merged. He expects more mergers to be announced in the coming year, particularly involving Florida firms.
“There is a reality in the current marketplace that if your goal is to grow, there isn’t a natural growth in the market right now, so merger activity is going to be hot,” he said. “The right firms want to get into Florida, and there’s always been this interesting connection between Midwestern firms and Florida.”
2013 set a record for law firm mergers with the announcement of 87 combinations, according to legal consulting firm Altman Weil.