Bingham McCutchen lines up DC merger with Swidler

Bingham McCutchen is to complete its sixth merger in nine years, taking over Washington DC-based firm Swidler Berlin.

As first revealed on www.thelawyer.com (8 December), the 850-lawyer US powerhouse signed a letter of intent last week to merge with Swidler by the end of March 2006. However, the link-up is subject to due diligence, conflict review, a definitive agreement and the approval of the firms’ respective partners, who are expected to vote on the tie-up in March next year.

If approved, the combined firm will operate under the Bingham McCutchen name and will boast a total of nearly 1,000 lawyers and estimated annual billings of more than $700m (£404m). Bingham chairman Jay Zimmerman said the two firms had first discussed a merger three years ago, but a tie-up had not been viable until Swidler’s practice areas were refocused through a string of changes, which were made over the last year.

These included the firm’s demerger from Shereff Friedman Hoffman & Goodman (which it formed a union with in 1998) in January, when the bulk of the firm’s New York practice left for Dechert, thwarting a merger attempt with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. The firm’s 14-strong energy practice also split off to join Alston & Bird in August.

As part of the merger, Swidler’s 10-lawyer insurance coverage practice will also be hived off to prevent conflicts. It is not yet known where the group will move to.

The tie-up will bolster Bingham’s technology, media and telecoms, government, real estate and structured finance practices.

The merger would be Bingham’s sixth since 1997, including the 2002 merger of 500-lawyer Bingham Dana with 300-lawyer McCutchen Doyle Brown & Enersen, which created Bingham McCutchen.

The firm also merged with Los Angeles-based Riordan & McKinzie in 2003; New York firm Richards & O’Neil in 2001; Hebb & Gitlin in 1999; and the Japanese practice of Marks & Murase in 1997.