After a nearly three-year streak of mergers and group laterals, Fox Rothschild may be considering its biggest addition yet.
Philadelphia-based Fox Rothschild has been in merger talks with midsize firm Smith Moore Leatherwood, sources have told The Legal Intelligencer.
Smith Moore has four offices in North Carolina, with its largest in Greensboro, as well as an office in Greenville, South Carolina, and one in Atlanta. The firm had 155 lawyers in 2017, according to Legal affiliate The National Law Journal’s NLJ 500, though it appears to be closer to 130 now, based on the firm’s website.
While the immediate status of the discussions wasn’t clear, one source with knowledge of the talks said a vote on a potential deal had been scheduled at Smith Moore earlier this month, but was postponed.
“We’re pretty active in our growth strategy. We are always talking with lawyers and law firms, and until we have something conclusive we don’t comment on those discussions,” Fox Rothschild chairman Mark Silow said Wednesday.
Smith Moore managing partner Julianna Theall Earp said she could neither confirm nor deny that any merger talks were taking place.
If a deal took place and all of Smith Moore’s lawyers joined Fox Rothschild, it would be the Am Law 100 firm’s biggest acquisition to date. Its largest-ever merger was in 2016 with Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, an 82-lawyer firm that was based in Minneapolis.
Since then, the firm has made several other acquisitions. It merged with 39-lawyer Riddell Williams in Seattle in May 2017, and gained 23 lawyers in Chicago and Wilmington, Delaware, when it acquired Shaw Fishman Glantz & Towbin at the end of May. The firm also completed a small merger last month, when it brought on six lawyers in Denver from Rollin Braswell Fisher.
In a recent interview, firmwide managing partner Mark Morris noted that Fox Rothschild does not yet have a presence in Atlanta or the South, and those may be geographic areas of interest to the firm if the right opportunity arose.
The firm had gross revenue of $450 million in 2017, and revenue per lawyer of $605,000.
Smith Moore has experienced some lateral defections in recent years. According to the NLJ 500, its head count decreased by 16 lawyers, or 9.4 percent, from 2016 to 2017. And in 2018, the firm has lost 21 partners and hired only two, according to ALM’s Legal Compass, which tracks lateral moves at large and midsize firms.
That includes a group of three partners and two associates in Charlotte who decamped less than a month ago to join Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, a 500-lawyer, Birmingham-based firm. Among them was Robert Marcus, who had been the partner-in-charge of Smith Moore’s Charlotte office. Marcus told Legal affiliate The American Lawyer in June that Smith Moore had a conflict that kept him from representing Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp., and he was interested in being able to pursue that client at Bradley.
Law firm mergers have been frequent in 2018, keeping pace with merger activity in a record-breaking 2017. And those deals have included a number of midsize firms—Altman Weil’s Merger Line recently reported that the average size of acquired firms in 2018 was 25 lawyers.
In the second quarter of 2018, almost a quarter of announced law firm mergers involved at least one Pennsylvania firm.