Washington Wrap is a weekly look at the biggest legal industry news and Big Law moves shaping the legal business in Washington, D.C. Send tips and lateral moves to Ryan Lovelace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a roller-coaster year for the Washington, D.C., legal market, from the sexual assault allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the many controversies surrounding President Donald Trump and his businesses, to regulatory moves like the Justice Department’s aggressive enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But so far it’s been relatively quiet on another front: law firm merger activity.
The first nine months of 2018 produced a record number of law firm mergers nationwide and across borders: 56 total, according to the consulting firm Fairfax Associates. The mergers at firms of all sizes amounted to one-third more than the average number of mergers at any point in the preceding 10 years.
Lisa Smith, principal of Fairfax’s Washington office, said D.C. firms have not been very active as either the acquirer or as the acquired in recent years. During the last four years, Smith said Fairfax’s data recorded one “inbound” merger each year where the smaller firm was based in Washington, and maybe one or two where the D.C. firm was bigger.
“That being said, there seems to be interest in at least talking about [mergers] from a number of D.C. firms so those numbers may tick up,” Smith said in an email.
Altman Weil similarly found that 2018 looks to be well on its way to becoming the busiest year ever for consolidations, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region. For the second consecutive quarter, according to Altman Weil’s analysis of the third quarter, the mid-Atlantic was the top region targeted by acquirers.
“Almost every law firm we work with is actively considering its merger options in 2018, and some large firms are becoming serial acquirers,” Eric Seeger, Altman Weil principal, said earlier this month.
Arnold & Porter’s 2017 combination with New York-based Kaye Scholer made the biggest splash in the Washington merger market in recent years past. Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer chairman Richard Alexander said he doesn’t think Washington firms are immune from the factors leading to increased merger activity, but each will forge its own individual path.
The “driving force” behind Arnold & Porter’s combination, Alexander said, was the firm’s desire to lead in the life sciences realm and compete in New York. Nearly two years since the merger went live, Alexander said the firm is “exactly where I expected it to be.”
“We’ve been very blessed,” Alexander said. “We’ve not seen a tug on our culture that some firms see.”
Alexander said he wouldn’t have done anything differently, but would have wanted to spend more time one-on-one with partners of the combined firm in advance of the marriage. The combined firm’s first year was about integration, Alexander said, and its second year is focused on execution. He described the combination as “intensely people-oriented” and noted that a firm’s staff typically have the most anxiety of anyone at the firm about such moves.
Such lessons could prove beneficial for Washington-based Venable as it prepares to combine with New York-based intellectual property firm Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto next month. While the combined firm won’t rival Arnold & Porter in size, it’s expected to place Venable among the nation’s largest 50 firms by head count and could be a harbinger for things to come in the capital and mid-Atlantic region.
Law Firm Moves, News and Notes
A pair of Covington & Burling lawyers formed a new firm, Brown & Peisch, in Washington this week.
Caroline Brown, a partner at Covington for nearly 20 years, and Philip Peisch, who was an associate and special counsel for more than seven years at the firm, shared the news on LinkedIn.
“At Brown & Pesich PLLC, we will focus on federally-funded health and benefit programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, as well as other assistance programs like Title IV … and food security,” the pair wrote. They said their clients are public agencies, consulting firms, health plans and providers.
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz summer associate Leon Cain’s death was ruled an “accident” and the result of “multiple blunt force injuries” by a Washington, D.C., medical examiner investigating his death.
Cain, a 27-year old Stanford Law School student, was found dead at the Woodward Building in downtown Washington in August. Before his death, the summer associate in Wachtell’s New York office accepted an offer to work at the firm after graduation.
Following Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court by a narrow 50-48 vote in the U.S. Senate last weekend, the right-leaning Judicial Crisis Network dropped a six-figure ad campaign thanking Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for supporting Kavanaugh.
Collins’ late-declared support for Kavanaugh appeared to help swing other indecisive senators into his corner. Alongside the six-figure thank you note from JCN, Kavanaugh also thanked Collins for being “brave” during his public swearing-in at the White House.
Speaking of the U.S. Senate, Peter Hyun joined Wiley Rein after more than three years with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, as chief counsel.
Hyun will work as a partner in the white-collar defense and government investigations practice from Wiley’s Washington office.
White & Case added Era Anagnosti as a partner in Washington, D.C., for the firm’s global capital markets practice.
Anagnosti most recently served as acting assistant director for the Office of Financial Services in the Division of Corporation Finance at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Shearman & Sterling lured Ben Gris to its antitrust practice in Washington as partner after more than 11 years at the Federal Trade Commission.
Gris most recently worked at the FTC as the assistant director of the Mergers II Division of the Bureau of Competition.
Scott Ferber, former counsel for cyber investigations in the U.S. Justice Department’s National Security Division, has returned to King & Spalding.
Ferber rejoins the firm after a decade in government, and he will be a partner on the data, privacy and security team in D.C. He was previously an associate at King & Spalding in Atlanta from 2004 to 2008, before going to work for the government.
Eversheds Sutherland added Robert J. Neis to its tax practice group as partner in Washington, D.C.
Neis is rejoining Eversheds Sutherland, where he practiced for 22 years before joining the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2012. He has spent the last six years as benefits tax counsel and deputy benefits tax counsel at the Treasury Department.
Diogo Pereira, a former associate at Paul Hastings in D.C. and a pair of Magic Circle firms, has opened a new firm in Washington, D.C., named De Almeida Pereira. Pereira’s firm already has a sister firm active in São Paolo, Brazil.
De Almeida Pereira will focus on cross-border investigations, international disputes and international project finance, public international law, and white-collar criminal matters.