Big Firm Tie-Ups Abroad Keep 2013 Merger Mania Alive

, The Am Law Daily

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UK Mergers

UPDATE: 12/16/13, 6:45 p.m. EST. Polsinelli is the latest Am Law 200 firm to get into the merger game, picking up 11-lawyer Atlanta litigation boutique Rafuse Hill & Hodges, according to The Daily Report, while fellow sibling publication the New York Law Journal notes that Syracuse-based Bond, Schoeneck & King has acquired two firms on Long Island.

The U.S. set a record for law firm mergers in 2013, even if a few late year tie-ups failed to materialize. Now large firms in the U.K., Canada and South Africa firm are getting into the act, with four notable combinations announced this week.

CMS Cameron McKenna confirmed Thursday it has agreed to absorb leading Scottish firm Dundas & Wilson into its U.K. partnership as of May 1, 2014. CMS Cameron McKenna is the U.K. arm of CMS Legal Services, a 2,335-lawyer legal giant structured as a European Economic Interest Group, a structure similar to the increasingly popular Swiss verein system.

According to The American Lawyer’s most recent Global 100 report—which notes that EEIGs and vereins differ from other Global 100 firms due to the way they restrict the sharing of profits between partners—CMS had nearly $1.1 billion in gross revenue in 2012.

By acquiring 300-lawyer Dundas & Wilson, CMS will now have roughly 2,600 lawyers in its network, making it among the world’s largest firms by attorney head count behind such vereins as Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper and Norton Rose Fulbright. (Norton Rose’s combination this summer with Fulbright & Jaworski came too late to factor into the most recent Global 100 rankings.)

Dundas & Wilson's decision to join up with CMS comes as Scotland's largest law firms face increased competition with their British peers, even as the country pursues its own form of independence from the U.K.

Earlier this year storied Scottish firm Semple Fraser broke apart, and over the past two years a number of other leading local shops have sought out combinations in an effort to survive. One of those firms, McGrigors—the only large firm with a Falklands office—merged last year with London-based Pinsent Masons. As it happens, Edinburgh-based litigation firm Simpson & Marwick saw its own merger talks scuttled this week with Kennedys, a firm with nearly 20 offices in the U.K. and overseas.

Founded in 1759, Edinburgh-based Dundas & Wilson, broke off merger talks two years ago with London-based Bircham Dyson Bell. Earlier this year Dundas & Wilson was rumored to have held preliminary talks with Eversheds, a notion subsequently debunked by both parties. Dundas & Wilson has struggled with partner defections and slipping financials in recent months.

With Dundas & Wilson now in its ranks, CMS expects to post annual gross revenue of roughly $440 million, a sum that would place the combined firm toward the bottom of the Global 100.

In another large firm merger deal announced in the U.K. this week, London-based Lawrence Graham and Birmingham, England–based Wragge & Co are expected to create a combined firm with about $280 million in annual gross revenue once it goes live on May 1, 2014. (The fiscal year for most U.K. firms starts on May 1.)

While those numbers would leave the combined firm far short of the Global 100, the merger is nonetheless significant in the British legal market given that it will create a 770-lawyer firm with offices throughout the U.K., Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

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