After taking a dip in 2001, mergers are back again. In the first three quarters of the year, at least 47 law firm unions were announced nationwide, according to Hildebrandt International’s merger and consolidations practice group, which compiled the accompanying chart. And with merger activity typically greater in the second half of the year, Hildebrandt’s merger group contends the number of mergers this year could easily pass the 69 from last year and possibly reach the 76 from 2000.

This year’s crop so far has ranged from the large — such as the marriage of D.C.’s McKenna & Cuneo with Atlanta’s Long Aldridge & Norman to form McKenna Long & Aldridge — to the small — like Wiley Rein & Fielding’s grab of five-lawyer bankruptcy boutique Gold Morrison & Laughlin in McLean, Va.

The activity shows no signs of slowing. Since the end of the third quarter, firms have continued to announce mergers or seek out merger and acquisition opportunities. Many of those mergers and acquisitions are meant to shore up missing offices or practice groups.

Reed Smith, based in Pittsburgh and with D.C. and Northern Virginia offices, and Oakland, Calif.-based Crosby Heafey Roach & May are on the path to a merger in 2003. The union would give Reed Smith the West Coast presence it has craved. Howrey Simon Arnold & White, which also has designs for growth out West, stole from Keker & Van Nest to help boost its new San Francisco office, which currently has 10 attorneys.

They’re not alone. New Orleans’ Adams and Reese and Birmingham, Ala.’s Lange, Simpson, Robinson & Somerville announced their upcoming Jan. 1 merger, which will create the largest law firm in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi with nearly 300 lawyers.

“In years past, the mergers that happened would be getting bigger for the sake of being bigger,” says American Legal Search CEO Joseph Freedman. Today, he says, “there’s a lot more due diligence.”

Adds Freedman: “Not doing a merger is better than doing a bad merger.”

Related Chart:
47 Mergers So Far in 2002

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