Buchanan Ingersoll in Merger Talks With Fla. Firm

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney is deep into merger talks with Tampa-based Fowler White Boggs, according to top management of both firms.

"Florida is a growth state and an important market for our firm, and more importantly, our clients," said Buchanan Ingersoll CEO John A. "Jack" Barbour in a statement. "Fowler White enjoys a stellar reputation in Florida, and we have discussed with them how a combination would enhance both firms' capabilities to service clients and further each of our strategic objectives. Discussions are ongoing so it would be premature for me to speculate on the outcome."

Fowler White CEO and Chair Rhea Law also confirmed the merger talks, saying Buchanan Ingersoll "has a very expansive number of practice groups and depth in those practice groups. So it's a particularly interesting connection. We are dominant in Florida and they are dominant in the Northeast and those are fast growing areas with good prospects."

Another attraction with Buchanan Ingersoll, she said, is it would allow Fowler White to open an office in Miami. When Fowler White Boggs split from Fowler White Burnett in the late 1960s, a lawsuit settlement stipulated that Fowler White Boggs could not open an office in Miami and Fowler White Burnett could not do so in Tampa. The merger would cure that problem, and sources said they doubted Fowler White Burnett would challenge the issue.

Sources say Fowler White Boggs began talking with Buchanan Ingersoll this summer but is still a couple months away from an announcement. Partners at the firms have not yet voted on the merger and a thorough vetting process is currently under way.

A merger would create a 550-lawyer firm dominated by Buchanan Ingersoll. Buchanan Ingersoll has 450 lawyers in 15 offices primarily throughout the Northeast but also in Florida and California. Fowler White has 97 lawyers in five Florida offices—Tampa, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale.

"I think it's a great idea," said Amy Levin, a recruiter with The Legal Group in Dania Beach, Fla. "Fowler White is a small firm and Buchanan is a national firm. Both firms are looking at growth. This builds a full-service firm for Fowler White and provides an expansion into Florida for Buchanan."

According to sources, Fowler White has been looking to merge with a top 200 law firm for at least a year. Previous talks with Memphis-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz fell apart for unknown reasons. More of a transactional law firm, Fowler White has struggled over the last couple years and lost numerous key partners in northern Florida.

Buchanan Ingersoll is no stranger to large-scale mergers, though it has been a few years since the firm entered into a larger deal.

In 2005, Buchanan Ingersoll picked up intellectual property boutique Burns Doane Swecker & Mathis of Alexandria, Va., adding about 60 lawyers.

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