San Francisco-based Pillsbury Winthrop and Washington, D.C.-based Shaw Pittman announced Wednesday that they intend to merge, creating a 900-lawyer giant with national reach and global ambitions.
The two firms signed a letter of intent Monday and said they expect the deal to be ratified by partners in March and finalized by April 4. If that happens, the newly minted Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP would catapult into the top quarter of The Am Law 100 list, long a stated goal of Pillsbury firm chairwoman Mary Cranston.
However, many details remain — including how many attorneys will exit because of client conflicts.
The 700-lawyer Pillsbury stands to gain as many as 350 Shaw Pittman lawyers, most of them in D.C., but Cranston said the 900 number “is a safe floor” for the combined head count. “We could have potentially — because of client conflicts — attorneys who could not join the merged firm and would find another platform.”
She declined to identify the conflicts.
Cranston, who announced the deal in Washington Wednesday alongside Shaw Pittman Managing Partner Stephen Huttler, said the merger fills Pillsbury’s last major geographic gap in the United States and helps position it as one of the “leading global firms.”
“We definitely will continue to build our platform,” Cranston said. “Europe and Asia are both areas of interest.”
For Cranston, it’s another chance to preside over a bicoastal merger. In 2001, San Francisco’s Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro merged with New York’s Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. Before that, Pillsbury had merged with Lillick McHose in Los Angeles and Cushman, Darby & Cushman, a Washington, D.C.-based patent boutique. But the mergers haven’t translated into steady growth. After the Winthrop merger, Pillsbury boasted it had 850 lawyers. As of August, the firm said it had 643.
Still, Shaw Pittman’s top-notch outsourcing practice would allow Pillsbury to carve out another niche practice for itself — along with capital markets, intellectual property, technology and litigation.
“We have international recognition for our expertise and for our knowledge of the industry and the players and concepts,” said Huttler. “That international stature and the profitability of our stature and the profitability of our practice has made us the envy of other large firms.”
In fact, Shaw’s outsourcing group has recently been raided by Morrison & Foerster, Latham & Watkins and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. But Huttler says the firm still has 90 lawyers and consultants in the practice, and Pillsbury expects a combined force of 110 professionals in the group once the firms are merged.