Defying the trend that has turned midsize firms into specialized boutiques or outposts of global giants, Carter Ledyard & Milburn has stood by its plan to remain a full-service firm. With just 96 lawyers, that’s no easy task, especially in New York. But the firm’s diversified groups have remained more than the sum of their individual parts.
"We talked about whether we are going to maintain our independence, and that is still our current strategy," said managing partner Judith Lockhart. "We do well at our size and it would be nice to add some more lawyers. In this economy, it’s a careful process."
Carter Ledyard’s transactional team has a focus on cross-border deals, for example helping Malaysia’s state-owned energy company Petronas buy Progress Energy Resources Corp., a Canadian natural gas development company, in a deal valued at $5.4 billion. Partner Steven Glusband leads the firm’s Israeli practice, which counsels more than a dozen technology and telecom firms regarding U.S. securities matters and deal work.
On the litigation side, the white-collar crime practice is pursuing appeals for jailed former Tyco International chief executive officer Dennis Kozlowski, convicted of looting tens of millions of dollars from the company in 2005. Last year, the firm’s lawyers helped win a verdict in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York confirming a $12 million arbitration award for client Oakley Fertilizer Inc. in a dispute with an Egyptian commodities firm.
Carter Ledyard offers practices not found in many firms of its size. While many top firms have pared trusts-and-estates practices because that work commands lower billing rates, Carter Ledyard’s practice has flourished — with clients including the late Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times.
Another area is representing municipalities in condemnation and eminent-domain proceedings, including helping the Empire State Development Corp. in its acquisition of properties via eminent domain for Columbia University’s $6.3 billion expansion in Manhattan. A third outlier is its art law group, whose members convinced a federal judge in New York to dismiss a suit in January against Robert Indiana, creator of the LOVE sculpture, brought by a dealer who accused Indiana of renouncing the authenticity of sculptures once valued at $1.5 million.
A focus on value has helped the firm survive in a sea of megafirms. That includes discounts for government agencies and nonprofits, and discounted hourly fees on deal work with a success fee when the deal closes.