Twenty-Nine and Counting as Firms Merge: Business of Law

Law firms announced 29 mergers and acquisitions in the first quarter of 2015. In the same period last year, 23 firms announced plans to merge or acquire other firms, according to consultant Altman Weil Inc., which tracks such combinations. In the first quarter of 2007, the earliest year for which Altman Weil posts data, only 10 firms announced a merger or an acquisition.

Three U.S.-based global firms were notable for their international deals in the first quarter of 2015. Dentons, with 2,600 lawyers, announced its intention to merge with 4,000-lawyer Dacheng Law Offices in China.

DLA Piper, with 4,200-lawyers, said it was planning to acquire Davis LLP, a 260-lawyer firm based in Vancouver. Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, with more than 1,800 lawyers, is planning on adding an 80-lawyer Singapore firm, Stamford Law Corp.

Altman Weil principal Ward Bower said in a statement that the plans of these three firms to grow cross-border could be replicated by other large U.S.-based firms.

“As they shake off the last effects of the recession, they are ready to make big deals again,” he said.

In the U.S., three firms set their sights on Chicago. Nixon Peabody LLP, with 600 lawyers, acquired Ungaretti & Harris, which has 102 lawyers. Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP, with 450 lawyers, expanded into the city by acquiring 25-lawyer Grippo & Elden, a litigation firm. And Greenberg Traurig LLP added Henderson Law, with five attorneys.

Altman Weil said the most active region domestically is in the South. Of the 29 deals announced in the first quarter, twelve were acquisitions of southern law firms, including four in Florida and three in Texas.

Dykema Gossett PLLC, with 340 lawyers, for example, agreed to merge with 118-lawyer Cox Smith. Last week, two Dallas firms -- Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank LLP and Elrod PLLC -- announced their merger to form Gruber Hurst Elrod Johansen Hail Shank LLP, a litigation boutique with 30 attorneys.

Despite the Chinese expansion of behemoth Dentons, three-quarters of the deals included firms with 20 or fewer lawyers.

In addition to the 29 combinations reported in the first quarter of the year, eight deals were announced in fall 2014 that became effective in January 2015, such as the merger of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP and Locke Lord LLP.

Law Firm Moves

Morrison & Foerster Hires New Partner From Justice Department

James Koukios, the senior deputy chief of the fraud section of the criminal division at the U.S. Department of Justice, has joined Morrison & Foerster LLP as a partner in the securities litigation, enforcement and white-collar criminal defense practice group. Koukios, who was a federal prosecutor in Miami from 2005 to 2009, will be based in Washington.

Last year, Charles Duross, who served as deputy chief of the fraud section and head of the Justice Department’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit, joined the firm.

Koukios, as part of his work at DOJ, oversaw prosecutions involving foreign corruption, health-care and securities and financial fraud, the firm said in a statement.

Shearman & Sterling, O’Melveny, Arnold & Porter Add Partners

Shearman & Sterling LLP has bolstered its mergers and acquisitions and corporate practices –- including public and private M&A, private equity, capital markets and corporate governance –- with the addition of Rob Masella, who joins as a partner in New York. Masella was previously a partner at Clifford Chance, where he focused on M&A, private-equity transactions and corporate governance matters.

O’Melveny & Myers LLP has hired Tobias Knapp, a mergers and acquisitions and private-equity lawyer, as a partner in its New York office. He will service as a co-head of the firm’s U.S. M&A and private-equity practice along with Paul Scrivano. Steve Tonsfeldt is the global head of the practice. Knapp is joining O’Melveny from Jenner & Block in New York. He represents public and private companies and private equity clients in mergers and acquisitions, private investment fund and securities transactions.

Arnold & Porter LLP has hired Hans Dyke as a partner in its corporate and securities group in Washington. Previously a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Dyke focuses on transactional, regulatory, commercial and development matters for clients in the energy sector.

Kramer Levin and Sidley Austin Hired IP Partners

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP has hired Brian Slater and Gregory Sephton in New York as partners in the intellectual-property department. Slater and Sephton both handle complex patent litigation involving technologies in the life sciences. They both were previously partners at Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto.

Slater has more than 20 years of experience in complex patent litigation and has served as lead counsel to companies such as Gilead, Merck and Sanofi, the firm said in a statement. Sephton also has more than 20 years of experience in all aspects of patent litigation that has included representing Emory University, Astra Zeneca, Novartis and Warner Chilcott.

Sidley Austin LLP announced that Michael Bettinger will join the firm as a partner in San Francisco. He will be a member of the firm’s intellectual-property litigation practice.

Bettinger has litigated cases for high-tech clients in the computer, telecommunications, semiconductor, networking and health-care industries, the firm said in a statement.

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