Law Firms

Law Firm Mergers Are Up; Bloggers Debate How Firm Business Models Should Evolve

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There were 16 law firm mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. in the year’s first quarter, and the biggest one saw the 3,500-lawyer megafirm DLA Piper bring in Australian affiliate DLA Phillips Fox and its 600 lawyers.

“Although we expect 2011 to be a rebound year for law firm mergers, it’s still too early to conclude that the market is back,” says Ward Bower, a principal at law firm management consultantcy Altman Weil in a news release. Altman Weil lists all of the quarter’s mergers at this page.

Most of the mergers were announced in January to coincide with the new fiscal year and were a continuation of a trend of international linkups for U.S. firms, according to Altman Weil.

While some U.S. firms seek new markets and clients through mergers, many firms of varying sizes continue trying to figure out what approach to take for their practices in general. Over at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, the uncertainty driven by competition and price pressure fueled a debate between 3 Geeks blogger Toby Brown and fellow knowledge management specialist Ron Friedmann.

“Will firms be ‘Law Factories’ that provide services to numerous segments of the market?” Brown asked. “Or will they be niche players that protect their brands in high-end markets and maybe even spin off sub-brands for servicing midlevel and low-end markets?”

Plenty of law firms are asking those most fundamental questions about their practices. Law firm management consultant Bruce MacEwen, who blogs at Adam Smith, Esq., was invited to comment on the 3 Geeks debate and weighed in with a simple answer (and some detailed analysis).

“Both are viable strategies,” MacEwen wrote. “The far more interesting questions are: (a) How much room is there in the market for each type of firm; and (b) Can a single firm attempt to serve both markets, that is to say, to be both elite counselors to the boardroom and law factory?”

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