Merger and acquisition work has been slowed by the economy - but you'd never know it from following law firm mergers.
According to the legal consulting agency Altman Weil, there were 70 new law firm mergers in 2008. Altman Weil's data show that deals slowed down in the third and fourth quarters of the year, but, overall, mergers were up by about 17 percent from the 60 deals reported in 2007.
The two biggest merger deals of last year, according to the data, were those between 1,500-lawyer K&L Gates and 175-lawyer Kennedy Covington and between 750-lawyer McGuire Woods and 145-lawyer Helms Mulls.
Southern law firms were particularly active in last year's merger action as 44 percent of 2008 mergers involved at least one Southern firm. Two of the more notable were the mergers of Bryan Cave (St. Louis) with Powell Goldstein (Atlanta), and Bradley Arant (Birmingham, Ala.) with Boult Cummings (Nashville, Tenn.).
"The incursion of major national firms into key secondary markets like Charlotte and Nashville may in turn be driving small and mid-sized southern firms to combine defensively in order to stay competitive," said Altman Weil principal Thomas Clay in a statement.
The 2009 merger market is already seeing some action. According to Altman Weil's data, nine mergers were completed within the first 10 days of the year.
"Large law firms with clean balance sheets will continue to pursue opportunities aggressively; and smaller firms, fearful of the economic downturn, will be looking for safe havens in larger firms," said Clay.