2017’s first 3 quarters set record for US law firm merger volume

This year’s total could easily beat the record set in 2015

2017’s first 3 quarters set record for US law firm merger volume
The first three quarters of 2017 have set the record for the highest number of mergers announced in the US for the first three quarters of a year, new data reveal. As a result, this year’s total number of law firm mergers in the US is looking set to trump the record set in 2015.

“Seventy-six law firm mergers and acquisitions is the largest number ever recorded for the first three quarters of the year,” said Eric Seeger, Altman Weil principal. “I won't be surprised if we see 100 deals by year end, easily beating the prior benchmark high of 91 in 2015.”

For the third quarter, there were three large mergers announced in the US. New York’s Dentons, which has 7,800 lawyers, announced a deal with Glasgow’s 200-lawyer firm Maclay Murray & Spens.

On same day in September, two major deals were announced, both involving Philadelphia-headquartered firms. Saul Ewing, which has 260 lawyers, said it was merging with Arnstein & Lehr of Chicago, which has 140 lawyers. Philadelphia-headquartered Ballard Spahr, which has 529 lawyers, also announced a deal with Minneapolis’ Lindquist & Vennum, which has 136 lawyers.

In Los Angeles in July, 350-lawyer Detroit-based firm Clark Hill acquired 90-lawyer firm Morris, Polich & Purdy. DLA Piper also added 60-lawyer Liner that month in the city.

“Geographic expansion appears to be a primary driver of the big deals announced last quarter,” Seeger said. "Law firms are always on the lookout for opportunities to grab market share in hot markets, but mid-sized and large firms are also increasingly interested in filling gaps in their geographic footprint to better serve their regional, national and international clients.”

The bulk of the deals, however, are made up of unions involving small law firms of up to 20 lawyers. These deals accounted for 71% of all mergers in the third quarter. The average size of an acquired firm in the quarter was 32 lawyers, as opposed to 45 in the previous quarter. The average acquirer size was 1,330 lawyers, larger than the 1,158 average in the second quarter.

The region most targeted by US law firms in the quarter was Midwest and West, according to Altman Weil’s MergerLine tracker. In the previous quarter, the top-targeted region was Midwest and international.

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