As we enter the final ten of days of calendar year 2017 and contemplate resolutions and goals for the coming year, we take a moment to shift our focus and glance into the rear view mirror at the twelve months we are soon to leave in our wake. From the perspective of this market observer, BigLaw 2017 looks like mile 17 of a marathon, with a handful of firms racing neck and neck, leading a pack of elite runners which is growing smaller mile by mile.
In terms of strategy, dominance for law firms can theoretically be attained by organic growth, individual attorney or group lateral acquisitions, smaller firm acquisitions or the rare merger-of-equals, but with the race for global market dominance among the few remaining elite-of-the-elite international firms only gaining intensity and more major-city markets being effectively closed to potential late-comers, law firm mergers and acquisitions have increasingly been defining competitive strategy over the last two decades, with 2017 being a record-setting year with about 100 law firm acquisitions tracked. See https://biglawbusiness.com/law-firm-mergers-on-record-breaking-pace-in-2017/.
The venerable London based firm of Norton Rose is a case in point, its 2017 acquisition of former AmLaw 100 stalwart Chadbourne representing only a piece of their current merger plans and recent merger history. See http://www.legalweek.com/sites/legalweek/2017/06/30/chadbourne-name-disappears-as-norton-rose-merger-goes-live: “Norton Rose, the product of a 2013 mega-merger between Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski and London-based Norton Rose, has expansion plans beyond Chadbourne. Since the February merger announcement with Chadbourne, the Swiss verein announced plans to unite with Australia’s Henry Davis York … Norton Rose has been through a succession of major mergers. It merged with Australian firm Deacons in 2010, then in 2011 with Canadian firm Ogilvy Renault and leading South African firm Deneys Reitz. These were followed by a second Canadian merger with Calgary’s Macleod Dixon in 2012, while legacy Norton Rose’s union with US firm Fulbright & Jaworski went live in summer 2013. The firm also inked a deal with Vancouver-based firm Bull Housser & Tupper in September 2016.”
With AmLaw100 firms disappearing at the rate of about one every year and a half, the question of which among them will be the next to fade away is fodder for odd makers. But look to 2018 to see more BigLaw acquisitions and consolidations than ever before as the leading pack in the race for global dominance continues to shrink and the rest of the market grinds to remain viable.