Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP, Pittsburgh’s largest law firm, is merging with Nicholson Graham & Jones, a 150-year-old firm based in London, pending partners’ votes.

The merger transaction between Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and London lawyers Nicholson Graham & Jones is expected to be completed in September, will mean a new firm-wide name, confirmed Peter Kalis, chairman of K&L’s management committee. Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Nicholson Graham is the moniker that will be adopted by all 11 offices. The deal also ratchets K&L up the ranks of the city’s largest private companies — it now places 15th but could easily crack the top 10 post-merger — and poises the firm for additional growth. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Further expansion into continental Europe as well as into other key U.S. markets will be an early priority for our combined firm,” said Mr. Kalis, who has made no secret of his interest in establishing a Chicago presence.

Since he took the firm’s helm in 1997, K&L has either opened offices in or merged its way into Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco and Newark, N.J.

The decision to enter the United Kingdom is based on existing and potential business, plus partners’ needs, but it has to be a special kick for Mr. Kalis, a Rhodes Scholar who earned a doctor of philosophy degree in law and politics in 1976 from Oxford University. By the early 1980s, the Yale Law School graduate was suing Lloyd’s of London, as he built an international insurance litigation practice at K&L.

Nicholson Graham is by far K&L’s biggest deal to date. With 135 lawyers, it is roughly one-sixth the size of 800-lawyer K&L, and will add considerable clout to the bottom line.

K&L had 2003 revenue of $320 million. The combined firm is expected to top $500 million in 2005, its first full year.

Mr. Kalis and Nicholson Graham chairman Michael Johns said talks began in March. Both firms had long contemplated a merger to enter new territory and acknowledged some preliminary talks with others, but said this was the only serious discussion.

Internally, the partners are referring to the firm as “K&L Nicholson Graham,” Mr. Johns said. Yet to be determined, Mr. Kalis said, is how the management structure of the combined firm will shape up. A few attorneys will shift to different offices, but this, too, hasn’t been set.

The merger is expected to appeal to corporate clients.

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