Biglaw, Law Firm Mergers, Partner Issues, Partner Profits

Is Bingham Experiencing The Urge To Merge?

We posed this question earlier today. The answer, according to a recent news report, is yes.

The past few months have been bumpy for Bingham. In February, we reported on falling profits, partner defections, and staff layoffs. In June, we covered additional partner departures. (By the way, the two “unidentified partners” who went to Skadden turned out to be tax partners Rajiv Madan and Christopher Bowers; they left Bingham due to a client conflict.)

In recent weeks, Bingham conducted a management shake-up. And now comes word that it might be looking for a merger partner.

Keep reading for our review of the reports, plus an internal email that just went around the firm commenting on the speculation….

Here’s a report from Casey Sullivan of Reuters:

[T]he 123-year-old Boston law firm Bingham McCutchen is seeking a merger with another top U.S. firm and has reached out to at least four in the past three months, sources told Reuters.

In recent weeks, Bingham has approached Chicago-based Winston & Strawn, according to three people familiar with both firms, as well as Philadelphia-based Morgan Lewis & Bockius, two other sources said.

In the spring, Bingham reached out to O’Melveny & Myers and Morrison & Foerster, according to one of the sources, although both firms rejected Bingham’s overture.

An interesting collection of possible partners. Here’s what one law firm consultant shared with us:

Recent history suggests that a firm does not approach Winston unless they are of the mindset to be a ‘seller’ in the transaction, as Winston has clearly demonstrated its orientation to cherry picking. When it tried to do a larger deal, notably with Howrey, apart from getting a Houston office there was not much it got from the endeavor….

[As for O’Melveny and MoFo,] there would be major cultural fit issues with either of these firms.

Remember, of course, that today’s Bingham is already a product of multiple mergers. In 2002, Bingham Dana & Gould of Boston merged with McCutchen Doyle of San Francisco. More recently, in 2009, Bingham acquired McKee Nelson, rescuing the smaller firm during the Great Recession’s darkest days.

Of the various possible partners, Morgan Lewis might be most promising, according to Reuters:

As for Morgan Lewis, one source said the two firms were moving toward an exclusivity arrangement, meaning they would not talk to any other firm about a merger while their own discussions were going on.

New York law firm consultant Bruce MacEwen said the risk of approaching numerous firms for a merger was that it created a “fire sale” effect, where competitors could swoop in under the pretense of merger talks but instead poach the firm’s most important partners.

That’s a fair point, by the always astute MacEwen. On the other hand, competitors are arguably already poaching partners from Bingham, as reflected in the many defections we’ve covered in 2014 to date.

What does Bingham have to say about the merger rumors? The firm didn’t comment to Reuters, but managing partner Steven Browne just sent around a firm-wide email that we got our hands on….

(hidden for your protection)

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