Jack Barbour, managing partner of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rhea Law, Fowler White managing partner
Jack Barbour, managing partner of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rhea Law, Fowler White managing partner (handout)

Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney will merge Friday with Tampa-based Fowler White Boggs, creating a 530-lawyer firm that instantly becomes one of the 100 largest in the country.

Fowler White chair and CEO Rhea Law will stay on as chair of the new firm’s Florida operations and becomes a member of its board of directors. She was one of the few female managing partners of a sizable law firm in the country.

“I am very excited about this,” Barbour said. “It’s an opportunity for us to establish a major footprint in Florida. We have a large and dominant lobbying presence in Pennsylvania and Washington, and we will have a similar presence in Florida.”

Buchanan Ingersoll, which has small offices in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, tried to find a merger partner in Florida for years, and talked with Fort Lauderdale-based Ruden McClosky several years ago. Most of its attorneys joined Greenspoon Marder after Ruden filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011.

Founded in 1850, Buchanan has clients with significant interests in Florida, including one of its biggest clients, Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, which has been growing steadily in Florida.

Fowler White, for its part, is no longer hamstrung by its inability to open an office in Miami. Under the terms of an agreement reached after Fowler White Burnett and Fowler White Boggs split up decades ago, Fowler White Burnett could not have a Tampa office, and Fowler White Boggs was barred from opening in Miami.

“I think the South Florida market is extremely important,” Law said. “We were precluded from having an office in Miami, although we were allowed to practice law and we do practice law there. We have always sought to resolve that issue.

The firm will focus on lateral recruiting in Miami to “achieve critical mass.”

Key Marketplace

“We are excited because this opens up opportunities to expand in South Florida in the areas of life science and cybersecurity and education,” Law said. “There are a number of practices that we see as important to meet the needs of Florida companies expanding or coming to Florida.”

Bill Brennan, a law firm consultant with Brennan Strategy LLC of Philadelphia, said the merger makes good sense for both firms.

“Florida is a key marketplace for any law firm that aspires to be a national firm, and Buchanan Ingersoll has been struggling to acquire a small firm in Florida for six or seven years,” he said. “This is a synergistic merger. Buchanan brings its clients, which have large operations in Florida, and it gets boots on the ground throughout Florida. It’s a slam-dunk successful merger.”

Buchanan has long needed a Florida acquisition to satisfy its clients, Brennan added.

Barbour and Law declined to disclose financial terms of the deal, including whether Buchanan will pick up any debt from Fowler White. Billing rates at both firms are comparable, except in high-rent cities like New York and Washington, Barbour said.

All of Fowler White’s existing lawyers will join the new firm, although Barbour did not rule out staff layoffs due to redundancies.

“We have not completed an exhaustive review yet … where there may be duplication of personnel,” he said. “As a general matter, we don’t expect large-scale layoffs.”

The new firm will add 90 attorneys and lobbyists from Fowler White, including 28 shareholders, to the nearly 450 attorneys at Buchanan.

Fowler White’s partnership ranks include two former Florida Bar presidents, Jesse Diner and Terence Russell, as well as former Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth.

Fowler White does not report its financials.

In 2013, Buchanan Ingersoll ranked 117th on the Am Law 200 with $266 million in gross revenue, $665,000 in profits per equity partner and $650,000 in revenue per lawyer.

The firm has had a presence in South Florida since 1990 and recently moved its Aventura office to downtown Fort Lauderdale. That office will eventually be integrated with Fowler White’s office on Las Olas Boulevard.