Law Firm Mergers Experienced Significant Growth in 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 3, 2017 - Law firm mergers in 2016 were up significantly when compared to 2015, according to the merger research team at Fairfax Associates, led by an uptick in cross-border mergers.

In 2016, we tracked 58 completed mergers (meaning the effective date of the merger occurred during 2016). This compares with 49 mergers in 2015, and is higher than the historical average of 50 mergers per year when compared to our data over the last 10 years (from 2006 to 2015).

The number of cross-border mergers in 2016 was 13, a large increase from 2015 when we recorded just five combinations. Part of the increase was due to Dentons finalization of six mergers: Costa Rica's Muñoz Global; Colombia's Cardenas & Cardenas; Mexico's López Velarde; Luxembourg's OPF Partners; Singapore's Rodyk & Davidson; and offices of Gadens in Australia. DLA Piper accounted for three of the combinations: Toronto IP boutique Dimock Stratton; Sweden's Gronberg Advokatbyra; and Finland's Peltonen LMR. Littler combined with French firm Fromont Briens, one of the largest labor and employment law firms in Europe, with 170 lawyers. The remaining three mergers involved London firms as the acquired or acquiring firm.

Most mergers in 2016 were small combinations, a continuation of the trend we have observed for the past few years. Seventy percent of the 2016 mergers involved firms with between just five and 20 lawyers. The largest domestic mergers included Husch Blackwell's combination with Milwaukee's Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek (144 lawyers), and Fox Rothschild's combination with Minneapolis firm Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly (82 lawyers).

California and Florida led the way in terms of merger activity (based on the location of the smaller firm, including in-state mergers) with six each. California's combinations included Squire Patton Boggs acquisition of Carroll, Burdick & McDonough (50 lawyers) and Lewis Roca Rothgerber's combination with IP firm Christie, Parker & Hale (40 lawyers). Florida's mergers were focused on Miami, with four of the six mergers in the state involving small (under 30 lawyers) Miami firms. Other top markets included New York with five mergers (three of them in New York City), New Jersey with four mergers (three of them with other New Jersey firms), and Texas and Virginia also with four mergers each.

Merger activity looks to be robust as we head into 2017. Ten mergers are set to be completed in early 2017 including some noteworthy combinations. These include Eversheds recently announced combination with Sutherland Asbill & Brennan; Arnold & Porter and Kaye Scholer; Baker Donelson and Ober Kaler; and Norton Rose Fulbright's combination with Vancouver-based Bull Houser.

Fairfax Associates collects data from published reports, press releases and direct reports from law firms. Mergers are reported where the acquired firm has five or more lawyers. Upon routine verification of the data, some historical numbers have been updated since previously issued reports, and the number of mergers contained herein may change as additional mergers are announced.