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Litigation giant Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which boasts the second-highest profits per partner among The Am Law 100, said Tuesday that it held early talks to merge with Williams & Connolly, a Washington, D.C., litigation and white-collar powerhouse.
But Williams & Connolly, a firm known for its independence, swiftly denied the notion that any deal was in the cards.
“While Quinn Emanuel is an excellent law firm, we are happy just the way we are. We have no plans to merge with them or any other law firm,” Dane Butswinkas, chairman of Williams & Connolly, said in a statement after news reports of the talks Tuesday.
John Quinn, managing partner at Quinn Emanuel, confirmed an earlier report by Legal Business on the merger discussion. ‘‘It is true that we had a meeting on this subject but it was very preliminary and we don’t know what, if anything, will come of this,” Quinn said in a statement Tuesday.
Quinn Emanuel has never been part of a major law firm merger in its three-decade history. And any transformational change for the 50-year-old Williams & Connolly would be a shock to the D.C. legal community.
Over the past three decades, Williams & Connolly has resisted trend after trend in the modern legal industry. The 292-lawyer firm did not organize itself around practice groups or even name a managing partner until two years ago. The firm was long run by its founders, then by its subsequent chairmen and a collection of executive committee members. Partner Kevin Hodges became the firm’s first managing partner in 2015.
The last lateral partner hire it made came in 2008, when Kannon Shanmugam joined from the U.S. Solicitor General’s office to develop the firm’s appellate offerings.
The firm has even resisted opening a second office, despite significant work that it’s done in New York City. Some Williams & Connolly lawyers work out of an informal space in the city when needed for litigation there, but no formal office has been established.
Even with Williams & Connolly’s reticent approach to expansion, the firm has held its own as a force in litigation, especially in Washington. Brendan Sullivan Jr., who became a legal celebrity during the Iran-Contra hearings, was reportedly among the lawyers considered for President Donald Trump’s defense team in the Russia investigation. And Robert Barnett is among Washington’s most well-known players, representing nearly every political luminary on their book deals.
Merger or no merger, Williams & Connolly and Quinn Emanuel do share a few things in common. They were both formed by hard-charging, competitive and entrepreneurial litigators. Both continue to be focused on litigation and have significant intellectual property practices.
Edward Bennett Williams, who died in 1988, formed Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago. John Quinn, a former Cravath, Swaine & Moore lawyer, formed his firm 31 years ago.
Both firms also have strong intellectual property practices. Quinn Emanuel has represented Samsung Electronics Co. in its patent battles with Apple Inc. Williams & Connolly also calls Samsung a client, in addition to Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Google.
Merging with a firm like Quinn Emanuel would plug Williams & Connolly’s lawyers into a much larger and broader firm. Quinn Emanuel has offices in eight U.S. cities; eight cities in Europe; Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo; and Perth and Sydney.
Any deal would also have to account for a wide gap in profitability between the Quinn Emanuel and Williams & Connolly partnerships.
Williams & Connolly had 117 equity partners, earning on average $1.595 million in profits, according to the 2017 Am Law 100. That compares to 142 Quinn Emanuel equity partners who earn $5.015 million in profits. Quinn Emanuel also boasted the highest profit margin in The Am Law 100 last year, at 67 percent. With a 45 percent margin, Williams & Connolly would somewhat dilute Quinn Emanuel’s record margins.
Quinn Emanuel catapulted to the 21st largest firm by revenue in the Am Law 100 last year, bringing in $1.204 billion; good for 15.5 percent growth from the year prior. Williams & Connolly’s 325 lawyers last year brought in $420 million in revenue, about 5 percent higher than the year before.