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Pandemic Drives Law Firm Mergers Down in 2020

law firm mergers

Law firm mergers have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mergers dropped by 43 per cent last year as partners grappled with financial uncertainties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, according to an Altman Weil MergerLine report released Tuesday.

Deal activity declined sharply starting in March of last year leading to only 65 combinations in 2020, down from the record merger record of 115 the previous yearr.

“We don’t expect to return to 2019 levels immediately, but we see a pent-up appetite for growth that should drive deal volume up in 2021,” Tom Clay, a firm principal and merger adviser, said in a statement about the survey.

The report is consistent with the findings of legal consultancy Fairfax Associates, which found that 2020 had the fewest number of legal industry mergers since 2010. “We expect the downturn in completed mergers to be a one-time aberration,” Fairfax said in December.

Last year’s largest deal was announced in January, before the pandemic took hold, when the 650-lawyer Troutman Sanders firm based in Atlanta agreed to combine with 450-lawyer Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, Bloomberg Law report.

The combination was finalized in July after the pandemic pushed back the original April date and which was the only deal in 2020 involving two firms each with more than 100 lawyers.

In another pre-pandemic merger, Philadelphia-based Duane Morris acquired Satterlee Stephens in New York City, adding 65 lawyers to its 800-lawyers.

Dentons, the largest firm in the world by head count, announced four acquisitions between August and December, including firms in Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Alabama and Des Moines, as well as adding a firm based in Tanzania.

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