Partners and Associates Heads Up: Mergers Ahead

Over the last month we have seen venerable Heller dissolve and predict Thacher Proffitt and Thelen are not far behind; relentless attorney hemorrhaging at these firms has already reached the top ranks with Thacher’s Vice Chairman joining Greenberg Traurig and Thelen’s Chairman reportedly in lateral discussions with Howrey.

While attorney and staff layoffs at major firms are commonplace today, our radar is not forecasting dissolution at any of the other still-standing behemoths quite yet. But with gross revenue and partner compensation predicted to be down twenty to thirty percent in 2008 at many of the AmLaw 200 players, firms previously reluctant to merge may be rethinking their strategies as alliances in stormy times generally yield confidence at least in the short term.

Attorneys beware, though; mergers also mean restructuring, or in the world of law firms, taking out the microscope to determine who is good for the firm’s financial health and stays and who is not and is left to find a new home on his or her own. This is why even merger rumors at major firms always elicit waves of partner departures — when the future is uncertain, successful people prefer to take matters into their own hands.

If you are presently sailing on an unstable ship, odds are your management committee is already analyzing the market for potential merger partners. And if you are brave enough to leave your fate in the hands of your captain, hope at a minimum that he or she keeps a steady head. If the lesson of Thelen’s recent combination with Brown Raysman be learned, a merger gone awry only expedites the torpedo to the bottom. Either way, by the end of 2009, the landscape of Big American Law will be quite different from that of yesterday. In the meantime, attorneys, we suggest you fasten your seatbelts and brace yourselves for some serious turbulence, while at the same time remaining vigilent and prepared to unhinge and jump in the event the opportunity of your dreams appears on the horizon.