Merger Plans to Create Law Firm Among 50 Largest in U.S.

Oct. 31, 2016, 9:49 PM

The large Tennessee law firm Baker Donelson has announced plans to absorb 110 lawyers in a merger with Baltimore-based Ober Kaler.

In the deal, expected to take effect Jan. 1, the newly formed entity would become one of the country’s 50 largest law firms by headcount, with more than 800 lawyers, according to an announcement Monday.

Under the terms of the merger, the firm will remain Baker Donelson. Partners at both firms voted to approve the deal in recent days, and now the firms will undergo a more rigorous conflicts clearing period in the coming months.

“They had no opposition and our opposition was less than half a percent,” said Baker Donelson Chairman and CEO Ben Adams of the vote.

The new firm is also expected to bring in more than $400 million in revenue and become one of the third largest health practices in the country. Outside of health law, it will combine practices in three core areas: financial services, construction and tax.

With regards to health, Adams said that the two firms practices complement each other because of their specialties and geographic locations.

Baker Donelson, with around 700 lawyers and policy advisors, traditionally has advised non-profit healthcare systems and has a large corporate transactional practice, while Ober Kaler, with 110 lawyers, has tended to advise for-profit heath care systems and carries more of a regulatory specialty, said Adams.

Adams added: “People don’t think about this, but there are three legal centers for health care. Nashville, because it’s the for-profit capital for health care in the country. Washington, because of the public policy and regulatory environment. And Baltimore, because that’s where CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] is based.”

“Now we have a significant presence in all three cities,” said Adams.

Craig Holden, CEO of Ober Kaler, said that one third of his firm’s revenue comes from its health care practice, with clients including CVS Health and Quest Diagnostics, a diagnostic information service provider.

Ober Kaler has offices in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Towson, and Falls Church, Virginia. Baker Donelson has 22 offices throughout the United States and London, including Nashville, Tennessee.

Adams said that the two firms were brought together by the legal consulting firm Altman Weil. He said Baker Donelson was contacted by Altman about the deal this spring, and discussions heated up over the summer as practice group leaders between the two firms met.

“We made a strategic decision about 18 to 24 months ago that we needed to pursue potential combinations,” said Holden, the Ober Kaler CEO. “We are currently in Baltimore and Washington and recruiting in those markets has proven difficult over the years. We had not been able to achieve the organic growth we had wanted, so we turned to the notion of a merger, or another combination, to get to the point we wanted.”

In the months ahead, Adams said that he expects both firms will examine client conflicts more closely.

“We have run conflicts checks on their major clients and we have a pretty good idea of where that is,” said Adams. “We don’t see any show stoppers with major clients, but until you get into the weeds, it’s hard to say that something isn’t going to come up.”

He continued: “My sense is that they are very enthusiastic, as are we.”

Write to Big Law Business at BigLawBusiness@bna.com.

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