Defections, Key Client Loss Take Toll at Dow Lohnes
UPDATE: 10/1/13, 12:30 p.m. EDT. Kelley Drye has hired IP litigation partner David Long in Washington, D.C., where he chaired the patent practice at Dow Lohnes after joining the firm in 2011 from the dissolving Howrey.
Dow Lohnes, a former Am Law 200 firm with offices in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., has lost nearly half its lawyers over the past three years amid a spate of lateral defections.
Now down to fewer than 100 attorneys and hurt by the loss of key client Cox Enterprises, the firm is engaged in merger talks with possible suitors, according to a half-dozen sources who spoke with The Am Law Daily on the condition of anonymity.
The sources include four former Dow Lohnes lawyers and two legal consultants, one of whom labeled the firm’s ongoing merger talks as the “worst kept secret” in D.C.’s rapidly consolidating legal market.
Should Dow Lohnes wind up merging with another firm, it would be the latest shop in the nation's capital to combine with a larger rival at a time when the financial pressures buffeting the legal industry are hitting smaller partnerships especially hard.
“It’s harder to survive these days,” says Sheldon Cohen, who merged his D.C. tax boutique Cohen & Uretz with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius back in 1985. “Smaller firms hinge on a few key partners, so it’s harder to hold things together.”
Cohen, now retired from Morgan Lewis and working as a director for D.C.-based investment firm Farr, Miller & Washington, says it was questions about succession planning that led to his firm's merger. And while he doesn’t regret the decision, he notes that not every tie-up works out.
A Shrinking Market
Not all of D.C.'s small firms are struggling.
Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel—which focuses on litigation and telecommunications law—and tax and political law boutique Caplin & Drysdale are two that have managed to remain independent. (Mortimer Caplin, who founded the latter firm in 1964 and recently celebrated his 97th birthday, continues to practice tax law.)
And Buckley Sandler, a financial services boutique formed in 2009 by Am Law 100 alums, has grown to 151 lawyers and climbed onto The American Lawyer’s annual Am Law 200 list in 2011.
Still, many smaller D.C. firms have opted for the merger route. Most recently, 10-lawyer energy boutique Bruder, Gentile & Marcoux was absorbed by Schiff Hardin, according to our previous reports. Within the past six years, other D.C. firms have been snapped up by Bingham McCutchen, Cozen O’Connor, Davis Wright Tremaine, Edwards Wildman Palmer, Greenberg Traurig, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, and Troutman Sanders.