San Francisco Law Firms Abandon Merger Talks

Easy come, easy go: A proposed merger of San Francisco law firms Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman was called off Monday, a little more than a month after the firms said they were considering a deal. A joint statement by the firms’ chairmen emphasized the “enormous respect” the two sides have for each other. Not much had changed, apparently, from the “great respect” they expressed back in October when acknowledging that exploratory talks were underway—except for client conflicts.

According to Orrick’s Mitchell Zuklie and Pillsbury’s James Rishwain, conflicts between Orrick’s public finance practice—which has handled the financings for the Golden Gate Bridge and Los Angeles International Airport, among others—and Pillsbury’s tax, environmental, and real estate practice ultimately derailed the plan. “Large law firm combinations are always complex, and both our firms are disappointed that we could not clear the way for a merger,” the statement said.

Orrick Pillsbury—they had already settled on a name—would have ranked as one of the 10 largest firms in the U.S., with roughly 1,600 lawyers. Orrick has about 1,000 lawyers, and in 2012 it brought in revenue of $866 million, according to figures from The American Lawyer. Pillsbury’s 600 lawyers earned $561 million in revenue last year.

So we’re left with one less merger for the year, and it is one that some experts and observers found puzzling in the first place. Here were two firms with strong roots and operations in northern California and with many shared practice strengths. The appeal of gaining access and cross-selling to new markets—a key factor in more than half of today’s announced law firm mergers—wasn’t immediately apparent in this proposal. Was the interest in growth for growth’s sake?

Whatever the strategy, in the end, no amount of mutual admiration was enough to make it work.

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