The year 2019 broke the record for U.S. law firm mergers and acquisitions with 115 combinations announced, including Indianapolis offices in some of the biggest deals unveiled.
Altman Weil, the law firm management consulting company, summarized 2019 as the year of small deals and reported that along with the unprecedented volume, 101 acquisitions, or 88%, were of firms with two to 20 lawyers. Even AmLaw law firms had an appetite for smaller shops, with 85% of their combinations involving small firms.
Overall, the average size of acquired firms in 2019 was 18 attorneys, according to Altman Weil MergerLine, down 33% from 2018.
Of the six deals that involved combinations with firms of over 100 lawyers, Indiana law firms were part of three. Taft Stettinius & Hollister started the movement with the announcement in August that it would be expanding its footprint into Minnesota through the merger with Briggs and Morgan. This was followed in October by Bingham Greenebaum Doll announcing it was merging with the world’s largest firm, Dentons. Finally, Faegre Baker Daniels closed the year by confirming its combination with Drinker Biddle & Reath in Philadelphia.
Taft’s merger with the 135-attorney firm of Briggs and Morgan, completed Jan. 1, grew the firm to more than 600 lawyers in 12 offices, primarily in the Midwest. The Indianapolis-based law firm described the combination with Briggs as highly strategic and one that strengthens Taft’s foothold in the Midwest, bringing additional talent and resources to both firms.
“With shared values of inclusivity, exceptional client service and being the employer of choice in each market, this combination will be highly advantageous to both Taft’s clients and the firm at large,” said Robert Hicks, Taft chairman and managing partner.
Bingham Greenebaum’s deal is part of Dentons’ strategy to implement a new business model and create a national law firm. As part of a broader deal that included Pittsburgh-based Cohen & Grigsby, the new model, dubbed the “Golden Spike,” calls for the local firms to retain some of their operational autonomy while being able to tap into Dentons global reach and legal expertise.
“This combination gives us the ability to satisfy virtually any legal need our clients have throughout our region, the US and the world, regardless of the type of deal or dispute or the geography involved,” Keith Bice, Bingham board member, said at the time the combination was announced.
Faegre’s combination with Drinker Biddle was described by Altman Weil as a “rare merger of equals.” Beginning operations Feb. 1 as Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, the new firm will have more than 1,300 attorneys and consultants in 22 offices across the U.S., as well as in China and the United Kingdom. It will be one of the nation’s 50 largest law firms based on size and projected gross revenue of nearly $1 billion.
“Faegre Baker Daniels’ growth strategy has always focused on attracting and retaining top talent and providing the counsel and collaboration required to help our clients meet their business objectives,” Faegre chair and managing partner Tom Froehle said when the combination was announced. “We believe that a combination with Drinker Biddle advances these objectives for our firm and we look forward to sharing the enhanced capabilities of a combined platform with our clients.”
Indiana did record a couple of small firm mergers, all combining with neighbors in the same town.
Hollingsworth & Zivitz saw some attorneys leave to start their own firm and the remainder of its practice acquired by Carmel neighbor Robert Means LLC to form Hollingsworth Robert Means. Meanwhile, the Fort Wayne firms of Eilbacher Fletcher and Van Gilder & Trzynka combined to create Fletcher Van Gilder.
Also, the two-attorney practice of Funk & Spandau did not have to relocate or make room for new attorneys when it combined with officemates Tate & Bowen to form Tate Bowen Daugherty Funk Spandau LLC.