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Law Firm Merger Mania: Edwards Angell Merges With Wildman Harrold

Edwards Angell & Wildman Harrold: A match made in heaven?

What results from the coupling of an angel and a wild man? One might think: angel + wild man = air traffic nightmare.

In the law firm context, however, the result is quite different. Edwards Angell is merging with Wildman Harrold, to form Edwards Wildman Palmer. The merger will take effect on October 1 and “will bring together 650 lawyers across two legacy firms renowned for their deep experience, shared dedication to client service, and highly collaborative cultures,” according to the new firm’s website.

What else do we know about Edwards Wildman Palmer? And what might be motivating this merger?

According to Am Law Daily, the firms see their practices as complementary, in terms of practice areas and office locations (which will total 14 after the merger):

Walter Reed, managing partner of Boston-based Edwards Angell, says that his firm was drawn to Wildman because of its presence in the growing Chicago and Los Angeles markets, as well as by what he called the likely synergies between the firms’ clients, practices, and cultures.

In [an] earlier joint statement confirming the merger talks, the firms cited Edwards Angell’s expertise in corporate and IP matters as potentially meshing well with Wildman’s strength in litigation, especially for private equity and venture capital clients.

As for leadership of the new entity, Walter Reed of EAPD will serve as the new firm’s managing partner, while Robert Shuftan, currently managing partner of Wildman Harrold, will assume the roles of deputy managing partner and chair of the firm’s strategic planning committee.

Reed’s leadership makes sense: of the two legacy firms, Edwards Angell is much larger. EAPD has about 500 lawyers, while Wildman Harrold has a little over 150. On the 2010 Am Law 100 list, Edwards Angell came in at #92, up from #94 in the prior year. It had gross revenue of $298 million in 2010 and average profits per partner of $735,000.

Here’s what one employee of EAPD had to say about the combination:

The email telling us what to say to clients was quite fluffy. It said something like, “Edwards Wildman leverages the combined strengths of two highly regarded and growing law firms, each of which brings complementary strengths and clients to the new enterprise.”

I don’t know what that means, or why having complementary clients is good for clients. I don’t think I could say this to clients with a straight face.

The merger comes at an interesting time for both firms. Edwards Angell didn’t weather the last recession particularly well. As you may recall, it conducted lawyer layoffs and staff layoffs, no-offered a substantial number of 2008 summer associates, canceled its 2009 summer associate program, and deferred incoming associates.

In addition, this past spring the firm had to shutter its office in Wilmington, Delaware, after a talent raid by DLA Piper took away pretty much everyone in the office. Earlier this summer, we also heard rumors — unconfirmed, however — of staff layoffs in EAPD’s flagship office in Boston, as well as additional possible cuts before September. (One wonders whether any layoffs will take place in the wake of the merger.)

On the Wildman Harrold side, the recession wasn’t a barrel of laughs either. The firm rescinded offers to 10 out of 14 incoming associates in 2009, and it also engaged in at least two rounds of reductions, affecting income partners, associates, and staff.

Like Edwards Angell, Wildman Harrold has seen departures since the recession’s end as well. As noted by the ABA Journal, the firm had 224 lawyers back in 2004, but since then has lost lawyers to various rivals, including Arnstein & Lehr and the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg. “They no longer have a door; they have a turnstile there,” said Jim Kilmer, a Chicago legal recruiter.

Regardless of the motivations for the merger, the combination does seem to make sense. If we end up in a double-dip recession, the firm of Edwards Wildman Palmer should hopefully be able to weather the storm better than either firm standing alone.

Best of luck to everyone at Edwards Angell and Wildman Harrold as they begin the important work of integrating their two firms.

P.S. Yes, the “Angell” in “Edwards Angell” is pronounced like “angel,” the flying creature. For confirmation of this, check out Georgetown Law’s handy law firm name pronunciation guide.

Edwards Angell to Merge with Wildman, Harrold [Am Law Daily]
Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge to Merge with Wildman Harrold [Edwards Angell (press release)]
Edwards Angell, Wildman Harrold in Advanced Merger Talks [Am Law Daily]
Edwards Angell Talking with Wildman Harrold About Possible Merger [ABA Journal]
DLA Piper hires away Edwards Angell’s Wilmington office [National Law Journal]
DLA Piper Goes to Delaware [Am Law Daily]

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