The Washington-based law firm Swidler Berlin LLP, which has experienced an exodus of lawyers since late last year, has agreed to merge with the much larger Bingham McCutchen LLP, with offices in 11 cities, the firms said yesterday.

The combined firm, with almost 1,000 lawyers and annual billings of more than $700 million, plans to use the Bingham McCutchen name, Bingham said in a news release.

For Bingham McCutchen, the product of a series of mergers over the past several years, the union with Swidler is a way to establish a stronger presence in the nation's capital, said Bingham's chairman, Jay S. Zimmerman.

Zimmerman would head the combined firm, said Tom Orewyler, a spokesman for the firm.

"They're trying to be a national firm, and I don't think you can be a truly national firm without a significant presence in Washington, D.C.," said Ron Beard, a law firm consultant with the Zeughauser Group.

For Swidler, the merger would offer diversification and stability, Beard said.

Swidler has 140 lawyers, 129 of whom are in the District. Bingham has 850 lawyers, including 55 in Washington. Both firms had profits per partner of more than $1 million last year, as reported by legal trade publications.

Zimmerman said he hopes to have Swidler's lawyers under the same roof as Bingham's late next year at 2020 K Street, where Bingham has leased space.

The deal is subject to further review and approval by the firms' partners. In recent years, Swidler's merger with a New York firm unraveled, and its efforts to merge with two other firms did not reach fruition. Those efforts were undone by client conflicts, said Barry B. Direnfeld, Swidler's managing partner.

Since late last year, Swidler has lost groups of lawyers in antitrust law, white-collar defense and energy practices. The departure of the energy practice over the summer put the firm on a path to the deal announced yesterday.