Baltimore-born midsized law firm Offit Kurman is looking further north for 2018, with plans to grow its ranks in the New York market and surrounding suburbs.
Its first move is to acquire most of what remains of a small firm with a long history in New York, Eaton & Van Winkle.
The deal is set to become official Feb. 1, when Eaton & Van Winkle’s 16 lawyers become part of Offit Kurman. They will stay in their office space at 3 Park Avenue in Manhattan and be joined by two of Offit Kurman’s five existing New York lawyers.
Eaton & Van Winkle has operated under its current name since 1965, and can trace its roots in the New York legal market back nearly 200 years. The firm had grown to about 40 lawyers in the early 2000s, then started to see “a particularly high loss of lawyers” in 2015, partner Ted Semaya said. So the partnership started looking at options for combining with another firm.
“We decided it would be hard to grow back with just ones or twos,” Semaya said. Becoming part of Offit Kurman, he said, allowed him and his colleagues to benefit from a larger footprint, complementary practice areas and more rate flexibility because of the firm’s presence in lower rate markets.
“There’s that terribly overused word, synergy, but the more smart heads you have in a group the better advantage there is to take things that come your way,” Semaya said. “There’s more things we can sell, we have a broader range of price points at which we can sell.”
The deal is not a merger in the legal sense, Offit Kurman chairman Ted Offit said, but Offit Kurman will be hiring many of Eaton & Van Winkle’s remaining lawyers and administrative staff, and they will bring their clients.
Offit Kurman is also in talks with another group of about 10 lawyers in the New York area, Offit said.
Offit Kurman was founded in the Baltimore region in 1987 with a focus on serving privately held businesses. It kicked off its regional expansion nearly two decades later, starting with Washington, D.C., in 2005 and the Philadelphia region in 2007—the same year it crossed the 100-lawyer threshold. Offit has said the firm, now at a head count of 140, aims to have 200 lawyers by 2020.
The firm began looking for ways to expand in New York in early 2017, Offit said. Historically, the firm has grown in each of its regions by hiring small groups of attorneys, he said, and absorbing Eaton & Van Winkle’s lawyers is the biggest deal yet.
Offit said these kinds of combinations are preferable to a major merger.
“It’s much easier to integrate when you take a small bite at a time,” Offit said. “We have to work eight deals to get 25 lawyers. While it’s clumsy and inefficient, it’s extremely effective.”
Semaya said he and his partners will benefit from Offit Kurman’s larger intellectual property practice, as well as the firm’s labor and employment and real estate practices. He also noted his new firm’s cannabis practice, which may be attractive to some of Eaton & Van Winkle’s clients.
The Eaton & Van Winkle lawyers bring a maritime practice and international clients to Offit Kurman, as well as partner Martin Garbus’ civil rights practice, which has found itself in the headlines in recent years. Garbus represented Pete Rose in his recently dismissed defamation lawsuit against a member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, and in 2014 he successfully won a commutation for one of the “Cuban Five,” a group that spent years fighting convictions on spying charges.
Offit noted that his firm’s expansion is focused mainly on reaching more midmarket clients. Semaya said he and his partners have clients across the spectrum.
“A number of us have our own networks of international contacts. That’s a lot of what I bring to Offit,” Semaya said. “That’s also a way we wind up doing work that you wouldn’t expect firms of our size to do.”