US mergers rise 25 per cent

Law firm merger activity is on the rise in the US, as the size of smaller firms continues to dwindle, according to a new survey.

The statistics, released by Hildebrandt International’s MergerWatch, show that there were 44 completed US law firm mergers in the first three quarters of 2004 – more than 25 per cent more than for the whole of the previous year.

In 2003, 35 law firm mergers were completed in the US.

At the same time, consolidation in the US legal market has ensured that the size of smaller firms is shrinking. The average smaller firm in the US now houses 30 lawyers, compared with 41 lawyers for the same time last year.

The largest of this year’s mergers was that of the 550-lawyer Seattle firm Perkins Coie with 70-lawyer IP experts Brown & Bain. That merger came into effect on 1 July 2004.

Also this year, DLA’s merger suitor Piper Rudnick merged with Paris firm Cariddi Mee Rué in its first foray into Europe.

A third major merger this year was that of Boston’s Goodwin Procter with Washington DC firm Shea & Gardner, effective from 1 October.

For the moment, the US merger frenzy shows no sign of abating. Last week, Piper Rudnick voted through its marriage with Palo
Alto’s Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich ahead of the 4 December vote on the tie-up with DLA.