Biglaw, Law Firm Mergers, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell

Law Firm Merger Mania: Would a Nixon Peabody/Locke Lord Merger Make Sense?

Yesterday we reported on a change in management at Nixon Peabody. We understand that some people at Nixon hope that the shift at the top will be followed by a return to Nixon Peabody’s old law firm culture.

But maybe NP people will have to get ready to assimilate into an entirely different culture? A well-placed tipster reports that some Locke Lord partners were told that the firm is exploring a possible merger with Nixon Peabody.

Locke Lord denies the rumor, while Nixon Peabody won’t comment. But our sources have been right before, especially when it comes to potential mergers…

Here’s what our Locke Lord source told us about preliminary Locke/Nixon merger exploration:

Big partner meeting at Locke Lord a couple of weeks ago announced they’re in merger discussions with Nixon Peabody.

Interesting. Lord knows that Nixon Peabody has been hemorrhaging people over the past year. Maybe Locke knows it too.

But as of now, Locke denies that any discussions are underway. A spokesperson for Locke Lord told us:

We are not in discussions with Nixon Peabody.

We sharpened the question a number of ways. Perhaps Locke Lord leaders haven’t started “discussing” a merger, but are merely looking into it and doing some due diligence? Or maybe they’re just thinking about a merger with Nixon, internally? But the Locke Lord spokesperson remained firm:

This is accurate: We are not in discussions with Nixon Peabody.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for firms to deny that merger talks are taking place only to later reveal that discussions had been going on all along. Just last month, Kilpatrick Stockton announced its merger with Townsend and Townsend and Crew, which was surprising only to those who believed the two firms when they said the talks were dead (after initially refusing to acknowledge them).

While Locke Lord’s merger denial is more declarative — though it’s a notably narrow holding, isn’t it? — a spokesperson for Nixon Peabody didn’t make an outright denial. Here’s the statement from the Nixon spokesperson:

We have discussions regularly with other law firms on matters relating to the profession and areas of mutual interest. In the ordinary course, we consider growth opportunities that are consistent with our strategic objectives and criteria. However, it would be inappropriate to comment on any specific discussions at this time.

It’s always good to give yourself a little wiggle space in these press statements. For instance, on December 3rd, before Richard Langan was replaced as managing partner of Nixon, we got some information that a number of partners were about to leave Nixon Peabody for LeClairRyan. We reached out to Nixon and were told flat-out that our information wasn’t accurate. But on December 10th, this story appeared in the Rochester Business Journal:

As many as 10 partners, including five from Nixon Peabody LLP’s Rochester office, plan to leave the firm and join the LeClairRyan law firm of Alexandria, Va., the Rochester Business Journal has learned.

The departures would continue a trend that has seen Nixon Peabody’s local and national attorney staff shrink over the past year as high-profile partners as well as non-partners in several of the firm’s offices have jumped ship.

In response to that story, Nixon Peabody furnished us with this statement, which you’ll note is devoid of denials:

The legal market remains fluid; we’ve seen lawyers come and go in the past; and we’re likely to continue to see movement in both directions. Our Intellectual Property Department is nationally ranked and includes a robust life sciences practice. Our firm has strong capabilities across the board and is attracting top talent.

Nixon went on to say that five, not ten, partners left the firm.

Given how the people at Nixon handled the LeClairRyan rumors, I’m not really sure what to make of their statement about the merger rumors.

We’ll see how this plays out going forward. Word on the street is that the Locke Lord partners were talking about this a couple of weeks ago, which was before Nixon announced Langan’s removal. Maybe now that Langan’s on his way out, Locke might be less interested in Nixon, or Nixon might be less in need of a merger partner.

Earlier: Nixon Peabody Management Shuffle
Law Firm Merger Mania: Kilpatrick Stockton Merges with Townsend and Townsend and Crew

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