Downtown Cityscape Los Angeles, California, USA
Downtown Cityscape Los Angeles, California, USA ()

Freeman Mathis & Gary has sharply boosted its California presence through a combination with Gilbert, Kelly, Crowley & Jennett, a Los Angeles-based litigation defense firm with roots in four big legal markets: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Diego.

The deal gives Freeman Mathis offices in San Diego and Sacramento and expands the Atlanta-based firm’s Los Angeles and San Francisco operations.

“This fills out our California footprint in the four biggest markets,” said Ben Mathis, Freeman Mathis’ managing partner. “Once you’ve got the footprint and have the business, you need to be in all four areas or you’re segmenting up your work in the state. Most clients look at it as doing work for them throughout the state.”

With 33 lawyers from Gilbert Kelley, Freeman Mathis now has more than 50 California lawyers—fully 40 percent of its 125 total lawyers. The merged firm will continue practicing as Freeman Mathis & Gary.

“This combination substantially furthers our goal of creating a national law firm of premier defense lawyers,” said Mathis and Paul Bigley, the managing partner of Gilbert Kelly, in a joint letter to clients.

Gilbert Kelley, whose roots go back to 1936, focuses on professional liability, insurance coverage disputes, employment law and commercial litigation, Mathis said.

He declined to name Gilbert Kelly’s clients but said the two firms share insurance clients. The corporate clients don’t overlap, Mathis said, but both firms have clients in the media, restaurant and manufacturing sectors.

“They wanted to expand beyond California and we have some clients who wanted more depth and presence in California,” Mathis said.

Freeman Mathis, which turns 20 years old this week, added its first California lawyers, in San Francisco, just four years ago, when it acquired a seven-lawyer litigation defense firm, Strazulo Fitzgerald.

In January it added an 11-lawyer boutique in Hermosa Beach, Edgerton & Weaver, handling securities and other regulatory law for financial services companies.

Mathis said Freeman Mathis first approached the Gilbert Kelly lawyers two years ago, and talks started in earnest in the last eight months.

“This puts us in a very unique situation. There are not many firms in all four major metro areas and the three Los Angeles markets,” Mathis said.

Mathis said the Gilbert Kelly lawyers fill out Freeman Mathis’ Los Angeles footprint, so that it has offices downtown, on the Westside and in Orange County. Gilbert Kelly’s 20-lawyer headquarters is located at 550 South Hope Street, right by the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, an art deco landmark.

“We’ve got a full floor—24,000 square feet—right downtown, and all the rent that goes with it,” Mathis said.

Mathis said the combination adds California capabilities to Freeman Mathis’ insurance coverage bad faith practice, led by Tim Kenna from the Gilbert Kelly firm, an area the firm has been building.

“In the insurance world, that’s a gold-standard practice,” Mathis said, since disputes over an insurance company’s coverage liability beyond policy limits tend to be high stakes, with significant exposure risk for the insurers.

In March, Freeman Mathis added partners Mike Athans and Jeff Kershaw, who defend insurance companies in high exposure and bad faith claims, to its Atlanta headquarters, where Philip Savrin heads the practice.

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