Posted by Jennifer Iverson
Riddell Williams, a century old Seattle-based law firm, is giving the walk down the acquisition aisle another try. This time around it’s with the much larger 800-attorney Philadelphia law firm of Fox Rothschild. A reputable Am Law 100 firm that has also surpassed the century mark.
In a recent press release, the two firms announced they would be joining forces formally on May 15th. This adds one more location, and 39 more attorneys, to Fox’s existing 22 offices and 800 lawyer family. With its expanded repertoire of locations, now in 13 states, Fox is well positioned nationwide for coast-to-coast coverage: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
It’s always interesting to observe these law firm unions, looking on as they respectively navigate the first few months of their marriage. In this scenario, there are likely anxious attorneys in the smaller Riddell firm anticipating how this change will affect them, their practice, operational systems, reporting structure, business development expectations, and their legal careers overall. Most importantly, how will their clients react to this marriage? Will they embrace the new arrangement, feel indifferent, or view it as a detriment? Many clients choose to be with a smaller, local firm, over the large powerhouse choices. This especially holds true in the Seattle area. Will this present opportunities for other area mid-sized law firms should some of Riddell’s clients decide to stay small and local – there are certainly many great law firm options in the Pacific Northwest.
Mergers and acquisitions of this size also fuel anxiety on the professional staffing level. It often presents somewhat of a David & Goliath setting, step-children of the smaller firm are absorbed as needed by the combined firms; however, smart businesses don’t keep extra employees around just to be nice and it’s no different in the business of law. So concerns about demotions and layoffs are very real and to be expected. Some departments are at greater risk of culling than others.
We often see marketing, accounting and IT positions hit the hardest when the larger firm’s main operational hub takes control. Sometimes, things remain status quo for a while before the shifting begins; others times, the reorganization happens immediately.
Unfortunatley, there is no crystal ball to turn to for guidance on how a given acquision will play out. Will they withstand the test of time? We’ve certainly witnessed arrangements so successful, so meant-to-be, that we’ve forgotten they were ever seperate firms. They contine to celebrate anniversaries, great profits, and their blended family through life in marital bliss. There are also many such attempts that struggle throughout with squabbles that make headlines and divorce court endings. These are usually couplings that onlookers and collegues questioned from the beginning. When the two firms can’t even agree on who’s name to live under – yours, mine or ours – red flags are waving. As Riddell can attest, from a past highly-publicized failed marriage with Graham & James, some firms unfortunately suffer the realization they would have been better off dating.
With the Fox and Riddell marriage, it’s most likely that Riddell will drop it’s namesake altogether and operate under the Fox Rothschild letterhead. Fox has been on quite a shopping spree the past couple of years. It completed its largest-ever merger just 18 months ago when aquiring the 82-laywer Oppenheimer Wolff firm in Minneapolis. And earlier this year Fox recruited a six-lawyer entertainment group in the Twin Cities and New York – the list goes on to include adding attorneys and expanding its IP group, start-up practice, white-collar, and tax practices.
We are undoubtedly in the midst of one of the most interesting and challenging times for the legal industry. Law firms of all shapes, sizes and practice mixes are exploring ways to streamline operations, be more profitable, stay more competitive, and keep pace with the ever-changing market and client demands. Unique times call for unique measures and it’s good to see Riddell executing a strategic move of this caliber. Having been involved with mergers and acqusitions from the marketing side, we’re familiar with the complications and sensitivities of such big decisions. Regardless of how small or large the parties involved, they are never pulled off without scrupulous analysis and painstaking contemplation.
Firm Evolution has had the great pleasure of working with Riddell – we proudly referred to them as a client – and believe a firm this strong, this genuine, and this admirable, will continue to be successful in its new venture with Fox. Riddell Williams is one of the truly great historical landmark law firms in Seattle – a pivotal part of that skyline and legal community. Riddell will be missed as a local icon and brand, but forever respected for their willingness to take yet another risk.
We are experts in this area having represented many law firms and lawyers as they navigate the merger and acquisition highway. We’ve also worked with several groups of lawyers who have broken away from mid sized and large law firms to establish new firms. Please contact us for more information about our services in this area.