Law firm mergers continue to target small firms

The marriage between Washington lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs and Cleveland-based Squire Sanders may have been the biggest and most buzzworthy law firm combination so far this year, but it was just one of 39 law firm mergers and acquisitions announced in 2014 — on pace to come close to last year’s record 88 mergers and acquisitions.

Seventeen law firm mergers and acquisitions were announced during the second quarter of the year, according to legal consulting group Altman Weil. Along with the 22 announced during the first quarter, that brings the total for 2014 to 39, the same number of mergers that happened in the entire year of 2010.

The number of law firm deals has crept up steadily since that year, to 60 in 2011 and 2012, and 88 in 2013. Law firms have been turning to consolidation as the demand for legal services remains largely flat. Merging or acquiring firms is one way firms can still show growth.

The trend is continuing to take hold among smaller firms. The vast majority of deals announced in 2014 involved large law firms snapping up small firms, many of which had only a handful of attorneys. During the first quarter, 82 percent of the firms involved in mergers or acquisitions had 15 or fewer lawyers. In the second quarter, 82 percent involved firms with 15 or fewer lawyers, and all but one involved firms with 21 or fewer attorneys.

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.

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