Large law firms are in a fierce battle for business and talent in Washington, making a merger an attractive option to stay competitive, D.C. managing partners said Wednesday.
Less than two months after McKenna Long & Aldridge and Dentons revealed they were discussing a possible combination, the leaders of their Washington offices said the firms began the dialogue in an effort to better address client needs. Talks on the merger, which would create a firm with more than 3,100 lawyers worldwide, are expected to wrap up by Jan. 1, 2014.
Joanne Zimolzak, the managing partner of McKenna's D.C. office, said clients are increasingly global and looking for help internationally. They also are seeking cost savings and synergies that can come to bear through mergers, she added.
Bruce Fried, the managing partner of the Washington office of Dentons, extolled the benefits of joining law firms. For Dentons, mergers are old hat.
Dentons formed earlier this year through the combination of SNR Denton, Canadian firm Fraser Miler Casgrain and European firm Salans. And in 2010, SNR Denton came into existence after the union between Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and London-based Denton Wilde Sapte.
Since the establishment of Dentons in March, the firm has had more than 1,500 engagements that are attributable to the merger, Fried said.
"I don't want other people eating my lunch," Fried said. "But I'm happy to eat theirs."
Grace Speights, managing partner of the D.C. office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said a merger is always a possibility at her firm. But Morgan Lewis focuses on adding groups of attorneys to complement its practices, instead of pursuing combinations, she said.
Lawyers from the now-defunct firms of Dewey & LeBoeuf and Howrey are among those individuals, she noted.
"There are many big law firms and many well-known firms that are struggling and you know that," she said. "And so, you watch those firms."
Paul Friedman, managing partner of Dechert's Washington office, said his firm is open to mergers, in addition to adding groups of lawyers to its ranks. But the prospect of a law firm combination is "very daunting," he said.
"The cultural issues, the conflict issues are very challenging," Friedman said.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi. From left, ALM vice president and editor in chief David Brown, Zimolzak, Fried, Friedman and Speights.