Taft merger leads explosive Q3 law firm combinations

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The third quarter of 2019 posted a record-setting pace in the law firm mergers and acquisitions market with the combination of Indianapolis-based Taft Stettinius & Hollister and Minneapolis-based Briggs and Morgan leading the pack.

Figures released Tuesday from Altman Weil MergerLine show 38 new law firm combinations were announced in July, August and September. The activity jolted what had been a sluggish 2019 and nearly matched the 47 combinations that had been announced through the first and second quarters.

To date, 27 combinations were announced in the opening quarter of 2019 and another 20 were publicized in the second quarter. The third quarter activity, which Altman Weil called “record-shattering,” brings the total to 85.

Also, the boost from the third quarter puts 2019 even with the 85 combinations announced in all of 2016. It also positions this year to meet or top the 102 combinations announced in 2017 and the 106 announced in 2018. 

“Every corner of the marketplace was on display last quarter,” Tom Clay, Altman Weil principal and merger adviser, said in a statement. “Big deals, regional plays, AmLaw firms cherry-picking premium boutiques, and the meat and potatoes of incremental growth by small firm in local markets.”

The merger of Taft Stettinius & Hollister with 474 attorneys with the 135-lawyer firm of Briggs and Morgan was the largest combination announced in the third quarter. Once the merger takes effect Jan. 1 Taft will have taken another step to its goal of becoming a regionally dominate law firm.

One third of all deals announced in the third quarter of 2019 were those of small law firms, most under 50 lawyers, combining with in-state or same-city colleagues in all regions of the country, according to Altman Weil.

Three additional mergers in Indiana demonstrated that trend. The trio of Hoosier combinations were all between small firms, with less than 10 attorneys, and all within the same communities.

Eilbacher Fletcher, which had seven attorneys, combined with its Fort Wayne neighbor Van Gilder & Trzynka, which had three lawyers, to form Fletcher Van Gilder. Also, the two attorneys comprising Funk & Spandau did not even have to change their Indianapolis address when their firm combined with office mates Tate & Bowen to form Tate Bowen Daugherty Funk Spandau LLC, which now has five attorneys.

After one of the founding partners left, four of the remaining attorneys from Carmel’s Hollingsworth & Zivitz combined their practice with crosstown neighbor Robert Means, home to five attorneys, to form Hollingsworth Robert Means. Three other partners from Hollingsworth opened their own firm, Connell Michael Kerr LLP, with offices in Carmel and Texas

Along with welcoming new combinations, Indiana said goodbye in the third quarter to Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe,  a fixture among labor and employment firms in Indianapolis for more than 50 years. Two of its attorneys, William Groth and David Vlink, joined Macey Swanson, leading the transformation of that firm to Macey Swanson Hicks Sauer & Vlink LLP.

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