Law Firm Mergers

Earlier this month, we reported on Bingham McCutchen and Morgan Lewis & Bockius’s agreement to merge. The 750-lawyer Bingham firm has been going through a rough patch lately, so news of the deal with 1,200-lawyer Morgan Lewis sounded like a rescue to some observers.

But rescues come with terms and conditions. What are the ones at issue here? There’s good news for some Bingham partners, and bad news for others….

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She’s not a porn star, she’s a law student. We could see where you might be confused by that one.

* Now that we know Eric Holder is resigning, there’s been speculation as to where he’ll go next. The obvious choice is a return to Covington & Burling, but he could still surprise everyone. [National Law Journal]

* “Judicial campaign cash is burning a hole in the Constitution.” State court judges are pumping money into their election campaigns, and some have been left to wonder about its true price. [New York Times]

* Details have emerged as to conditions that must be met for Bingham McCutchen’s proposed merger with Morgan Lewis: partner promises, de-equitizations, and forgivable loans, oh my! [Reuters (sub. req.)]

* In the wake of Dean Makau Mutua’s decision to step down at Buffalo Law, a “deep rift” among faculty has been brought to light. The school’s future doesn’t seem as “bright” as we were once told. [Buffalo News]

* A former law student who was falsely identified as a porn star on the radio had her day in court and pulled out a win. Here’s the money shot: she’s walking away with $1 million in damages. [Kansas City Star]

Ed. note: Stat of the Week is a new feature that pulls data points from ATL Research as well as noteworthy sources across the web.

Rumors of a Bingham McCutchen/Morgan Lewis merger were confirmed this week when news broke that the two firms had reached an agreement to combine. The firms have a lot in common in terms of financial metrics: for 2013, Bingham came in at $1.48 million for profits per partner and $960,000 for revenue per lawyer, while Morgan Lewis posted similar numbers, $1.57 million and $945,000, in those categories (according to Am Law).

Something the two firms don’t have in common? The direction they’ve been heading in….

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September is shaping up to be a busy month for law firm merger news. On the heels of the Locke Lord / Edwards Wildman deal, we’re getting word that Bingham McCutchen and Morgan Lewis have reached an agreement to merge.

The news doesn’t come as a shock. Rumors of a Bingham/Morgan combination have been circulating for months. There was talk that such a deal could trigger some partner departures, and those departures have already come to pass (presumably removing from the picture some potential objectors to a merger).

Let’s have a look at what a Morgan Bingham — or Bingham Morgan, or maybe just a bigger Morgan Lewis, if no name change takes place — might look like….

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Everybody in the Canadian legal profession knows that international firms Baker & McKenzie, Norton Rose and Dentons have set up shop in Canada. Baker & McKenzie has actually been in Toronto since 1962. Norton Rose absorbed the venerable Ogilvy Renault in 2011 before conquering the west by merging with energy powerhouse MacLeod Dixon in 2012. Dentons made its Canadian play in 2013 by merging with another long-established firm, Fraser Milner.

But how many people realize that there are several other prominent U.S./international firms working somewhat under the radar in the Canadian market? Powerhouses like Paul Weiss, Shearman & Sterling and Skadden Arps all have small Canadian offices where they service mostly American clients. Similarly, Dorsey & Whitney, Hodgson Russ, Dickinson Wright, Fragomen, and Clyde and Co. all have small Canadian presences.

By my count, that’s eleven U.S./international firms that have a real footprint in Canada, which leads to this question: why aren’t there more? Canada is a G8 nation with a strong economy. Our citizens are warm and friendly. We wear deodorant. Why have you forsaken us, international law firms?

Here’s what I dug up:

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Size matters, and to be successful today you really have to be in that Am Law 50.

Alan Levin, managing partner of Edwards Wildman, commenting on the importance of being viewed as a “tier 1″ law firm in the overall Biglaw hierarchy. Levin identified possible merger partners by commissioning a study to separate firms into “tier 1″ and “tier 2″ groupings. Locke Lord was considered a “tier 1″ firm, and Levin will become vice chair of Locke Lord Edwards if the merger goes through.

We’ve been hearing rumblings about it for weeks, and now there’s something to report: Locke Lord and Edwards Wildman Palmer have signed a letter of intent to merge.

Some folks at Edwards Wildman must be breathing sighs of relief (and hoping that nothing scuttles the deal). The past year or so has been challenging for the firm. In the spring, the firm laid off 52 lawyers and staff. In 2013, the firm experienced lots of partner defections and a significant dip in gross revenue.

It’s nice to see a troubled firm get rescued through a merger — e.g., Patton Boggs — instead of suffer the fate of Dewey. What do we know about the possible Locke Lord / Edwards Wildman deal?

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Observers of the legal industry have been wondering about the future of Bingham McCutchen for the past several months. In the wake of a rocky 2013, which triggered some lawyer departures and staff reductions, there has been a fair amount of merger talk.

Some have wondered whether Bingham might “fall victim to its own strategy” — i.e., whether the firm, which grew in power and profitability by swallowing up other firms, might itself get eaten up by a rival.

So what’s the latest on the Bingham merger talk front? And what might happen if the talks go further?

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Judge Jill Pryor

* Mathew Martoma, the former Harvard law student who fabricated his transcript when applying for clerkships, gets nine years in prison for insider trading. [DealBook / New York Times]

* If Bingham McCutchen moves forward on merger talks with Morgan Lewis, a bunch of Bingham partners might bail. [American Lawyer]

* Congratulations to Judge Jill Pryor, who will join Judge Bill Pryor on the Eleventh Circuit. [Fulton County Daily Report]

* Can you be fired for medical marijuana in Colorado, where the drug is legal even for recreational purposes? [ABA Journal]

* Dewey have some good news for the embattled ex-leaders of the defunct law firm? [New York Law Journal]

* Home Depot is the latest major retailer to be hit by a data breach. [Washington Post]

We were facing increasing financial pressure. So we undertook a substantial restructuring, and that restructuring put us on a solid economic and financial footing, allowing us to do a combination to meet our strategic needs.

Many if not most of the U.S.-based law firms in the 350 to 600 or 700 lawyer-range are feeling a great deal of financial pressure. We felt it more than many because we had a number of very large cases—totaling, at the end of the day, nearly $80 million of a $330 million budget—settle and wind up through normal course. That dramatic decline in revenue exacerbated the pressure on us, but the financial pressure on all law firms today are very significant.

Ed Newberry, co-managing partner of Squire Patton Boggs, explaining in an interview with David J. Parnell of Forbes, why he led the charge to a Biglaw mega merger with Squire Sanders as managing partner of Patton Boggs.

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