Business & Practice

U.S. Law Firm Consolidation Accelerated in 2015

Jan. 6, 2016, 8:18 PM

The number of U.S. law firm combinations reached the highest point in nearly a decade as consolidation continued to sweep the legal industry, according to a report by consulting firm Altman Weil released on Wednesday.

Altman Weil principal Ward Bower said 91 mergers were announced in 2015, up from the 82 recorded in 2014 and more than any year since his firm started tracking combinations in 2007. Previously, the 88 mergers announced in 2013 was highest, Bower said. Industry consolidation helps firms to achieve growth in an otherwise challenging business environment, Bower said.

“Law firm mergers and acquisitions are a primary strategy to acquire new business in a market where demand is flat or constrained,” he said. “The record number of deals in 2015 is a reflection of the intense competition among law firms for new work, and we expect the market to remain hot in 2016.”

Most of the combinations tracked by Altman Weil MergerLine involved small U.S. firms. In 2015, 77 percent of the acquiredfirms had 20 or fewer attorneys. Just over two-thirds of the acquiring firms had 100 or more attorneys.

Early on in the year, the 2500-lawyer Dentons and 3,600-lawyer Chinese firm Dacheng announced a tie-up through swiss verein, creating the largest law firm ever. Dentons proceeded to announce eight combinations overall in 2015, tripling its ranks, Newton Square, Pa.-based Altman Weil said.

Other large U.S. law firms made significant international moves in 2015, the consulting firm said. DLA Piper, with 4,200 lawyers, combined with the 260-lawyer Canadian firm, Davis LLP. Morgan Lewis, a law firm with over 1,800 lawyers, acquired 80-lawyer Stamford Law Corp. in Singapore. Littler Mendelson, with 1,000 attorneys, added 21-lawyer German law firm, Vangard.

Altman Weil’s count covers combinations announced in 2015; some will close in 2016. The firm counts the announcement of combinations, rather than their closings, because it better reflects the deal flow, spokeswoman Cathy Roach explained.

The report is available for free online here .

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