Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney CEO John A. “Jack” Barbour and Fowler White & Boggs CEO Rhea Law
Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney CEO John A. “Jack” Barbour and Fowler White & Boggs CEO Rhea Law ()

Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney is set to merge today with Tampa-based Fowler White Boggs, creating a 530-lawyer firm that would become one of the 100 largest in the country by headcount.

The combined firm will be known in Florida as Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney/Fowler White Boggs for one year, then revert to the name Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. The firm will be based in Pittsburgh and led by Buchanan Ingersoll CEO John A. “Jack” Barbour. It will have 18 offices throughout the country, including six in Florida that will house more than 100 attorneys in the state.

Fowler White CEO and Chair Rhea Law will stay on as chairperson of the new firm’s Florida operations and a member of the board of directors.

“I am very excited about this,” Barbour said. “It’s an opportunity for us to establish a major footprint in Florida. We have a large and dominant lobbying presence in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., and we will have a similar presence in Florida.”

Barbour said Fowler White looks in Florida a lot like Buchanan Ingersoll does in Pennsylvania when it comes to the number of offices in their respective states, the practice focus and lobbying components.

Barbour said he was initially looking at growing the firm’s presence mainly in Tampa through the acquisition of a smaller group. But when the possibility of the Fowler White merger came along, it “accomplished some goals very well and gave us other challenges,” Barbour said.

“We switched our model from filling holes to being in a position to replicate the success that we’ve had in Pennsylvania,” Barbour said.

Buchanan Ingersoll, which has small offices in Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, had been trying to find a merger partner in Florida for years, and entered into talks with Fort Lauderdale-based Ruden McClosky several years ago. Those talks never got serious, Barbour said, and Ruden wound up merging with Greenspoon Marder after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Founded in 1850, Buchanan Ingersoll has clients with significant interests in Florida, including one of its biggest clients, Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, which has been growing steadily in Florida.

The merger means that Fowler White, for its part, will no longer be hamstrung by its inability to open an office in Miami. Under the terms of an agreement reached after Fowler White Burnett and Fowler White Boggs split up decades ago, Fowler White Burnett could never maintain an office in Tampa and Fowler White Boggs was barred from opening an office in Miami.

“I think the South Florida market is extremely important,” Law said. “We were precluded from having an office in Miami, although we were allowed to practice law and we do practice law there. We have always sought to resolve that issue.”

The firm will focus on lateral recruiting in Miami in an effort to “achieve critical mass.”

“We are excited because this opens up opportunities to expand in South Florida, in the areas of life science and cybersecurity and education,” Law said. “There are a number of practices that we see as important to meet the needs of Florida companies expanding or coming to Florida.”

According to Bill Brennan, a law firm consultant with Brennan Strategy LLC of Philadelphia, the merger makes good sense for both firms.

“Florida is a key marketplace for any law firm that aspires to be a national firm and Buchanan Ingersoll has been struggling to acquire a small firm in Florida for six or seven years,” he said. “This is a synergistic merger. Buchanan brings its clients, which have large operations in Florida, and it gets boots on the grounds throughout Florida. It’s a slam-dunk successful merger.”

Buchanan Ingersoll has long needed a Florida acquisition to satisfy its clients, Brennan added.

Barbour and Law declined to disclose financial terms of the deal, including whether Buchanan Ingersoll will pick up any debt from Fowler White. Billing rates at both firms are comparable, except in high-rent cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., Barbour said.

All of Fowler White’s existing lawyers will join the new firm, although Barbour did not rule out staff layoffs due to redundancies. “We have not completed an exhaustive review yet … where there may be duplication of personnel,” he said. “As a general matter, we don’t expect large-scale layoffs.”

The new firm will add 90 attorneys and lobbyists from Fowler White—including 28 shareholders—to the nearly 450 lawyers at Buchanan Ingersoll.

In 2013, Buchanan Ingersoll was ranked 117th on the Am Law 200 with $265.5 million in gross revenue, $665,000 in profits per equity partner and $650,000 in revenue per lawyer.

The firm has had a presence in South Florida since 1990, and recently moved a tiny Aventura office to downtown Fort Lauderdale. In addition to its locations in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Fowler White has offices in Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Fort Myers.

Julie Kay is a reporter for the Daily Business Review, a Legal affiliate based in Florida.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI. •