Ballard Spahr offices in Washington, D.C. March 24, 2015. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL. (Diego M. Radzinschi)
In its second merger announcement in two weeks, Ballard Spahr has reached a deal to add 25 lawyers from media law boutique Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.
The combination, announced Tuesday and effective Oct. 1, will add lawyers to Ballard Spahr’s Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, and Denver offices, growing the firm’s media and entertainment law group.
“If you have the opportunity to be the pre-eminent lawyers in a certain practice area, you go for it,” Ballard Spahr chairman Mark Stewart said.
The Levine Sullivan merger news comes on the heels of Ballard Spahr’s announcement last week that it was joining forces with Lindquist & Vennum, a 150-lawyer Minneapolis-based firm, effective Jan. 1. When both mergers are complete, Ballard Spahr will have a total head count of 675 attorneys.
Stewart said his firm had not started 2017 with the intent to grow its media practice to almost 30 lawyers. But the Levine Sullivan merger talks, beginning about six months ago, presented an opportunity Ballard Spahr could not turn down.
Levine Sullivan managing partner Jay Ward Brown said his firm created its own strategic plan after its 20-year anniversary last year. They were approached by a number of firms before talks with Ballard Spahr began, he said.
“One of the things my partners very quickly reached consensus on is that in the current circumstances of this country and the industry we serve, the news and entertainment industry, we need a larger platform both with a greater geographic reach and a greater number of litigators to adequately serve our clients’ interests,” Brown said.
The leaders of Ballard Spahr’s media and entertainment law practice joined in recent years. David Bodney joined the firm’s Phoenix office in 2014, and Charles Tobin came to the firm’s Washington, D.C., office in June. They will continue to lead the larger practice, Stewart said.
In addition to serving media clients, Stewart said, the Levine Sullivan attorneys will be able to help corporate clients in other industries who are increasingly creating content.
Levine Sullivan has been involved in several high-profile media and First Amendment cases of late. The firm recently represented The New York Times, as it successfully fought a defamation claim brought by Sarah Palin. It also represented The Associated Press as it sought to unseal court documents in civil litigation against Bill Cosby.
Since its founding about 20 years ago, Levine Sullivan has represented nearly every major newspaper and network in some of the most high-profile defamation cases and its lawyers include the top authorities on media law.
Its head count has hovered around 30 lawyers this year. And just this summer the boutique lost three top partners and two associates to a much larger law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine. Some of these partners had worked on its most recent notable cases, including Katherine Bolger, who was part of a Levine Sullivan team representing the estate of the late Chris Kyle, a sniper for the Navy SEALs; and Washington, D.C., partner Nathan Siegel, whose clients have included ABC News, Tribune Co. and ESPN in defamation lawsuits. Levine Sullivan has remained on the Kyle case.
Stewart said those departures were unrelated to the merger, and did not affect the firms’ discussions.
Before last week, Ballard Spahr hadn’t announced any mergers since 2013, when it acquired Stillman & Friedman, a 14-lawyer white-collar and securities litigation boutique, giving the firm a presence in New York. After that, Ballard Spahr had around 500 lawyers for several years.
“When we finished New York in 2013 we did consciously take a step back” from mergers, and focused on integrating practices, Stewart said.
But growing through lateral hires of “one here, and two there,” became a time-consuming strategy, he said.
“There was a change in mindset,” Stewart said. “When the Lindquist deal appeared, I was much more open to hearing about a big acquisition.”
Still, the firm does not have a target head count in mind for future growth, he said.