Venable, D.C. law firm to merge; Tucker Flyer deal expected to create region's No. 2 practice; Legal profession


Baltimore-based Venable Baetjer & Howard said yesterday that it plans to merge with Tucker Flyer of Washington in a transaction intended to strengthen the business practices of both law firms in the Washington-Baltimore corridor.

The merger will add Tucker's 55 lawyers to Venable's 295, giving the combined firm 190 lawyers in Washington and about 160 in Baltimore.

The deal is expected to give Venable the second-largest number of lawyers -- 350 -- in the Baltimore-Washington area, behind Hogan & Hartson. The combined firm, which will retain the Venable name, expects to generate revenue of about $150 million next year.

Tucker Flyer said the deal gives it access to a full-service law firm with strong technology, government and litigation practices. Venable said it gets one of the best corporate, tax and real estate practices in Washington.

"It's a great opportunity for both firms to really deepen and broaden what they can do for their clients," said James L. Shea, Venable's managing partner.

With Tucker's lawyers under the same roof, Venable will strengthen its ability to land and keep business clients in the fast-growing Washington market, Shea said.

"We can give them cradle-to-grave service," he said, "from patenting ideas, incorporating them, raising capital and doing tax, corporate and real estate work."

The deal comes less than a year after Venable bolstered its intellectual property practice by absorbing Spencer & Frank, a Washington law firm of 15 lawyers.

The Tucker Flyer transaction, scheduled to become final Jan. 1, marks the second merger planned by a large Baltimore law firm.

Piper & Marbury LLP, Maryland's largest law firm, is scheduled to join forces this month with Rudnick & Wolfe of Chicago. That deal will create a national firm of more than 750 lawyers.

Yesterday, Shea took pains to portray the Venable merger as a move to strengthen legal practices in a fast-growing region. "This combination is about servicing those clients," he said. "It's not about numbers or statistics."

Robert Gottlieb, who led Tucker's search for a merger partner, said the 25-year-old firm had repeatedly turned away suitors -- until recently.

He said the firm's clients, which include AppNet Systems Inc. and Teligent Inc., are demanding more and more legal services. "Our ability to be responsive to clients was being hampered by the fact that we're only 55 lawyers," he said.

Gottlieb said the firm had done a lot of work for AppNet. "But when it was time to help them go public, we were not in a position to do that," Gottlieb said.

Similarly, Shea said the merger will appeal to Venable's Washington clients, which include Marriott International Inc. and Ferris Baker Watts.

The firms, which approached each other about merging at different times in recent years, were attracted by like goals and cultures.

"We knew the Venable people for many years," Gottlieb said. "Jim and I shared some hours together. You can't imagine two people being more like-minded about the the practice of law, how people are managed, and the mixture of career and private life."

Shea said Tucker Flyer shared Venable's views about the importance of charity work.

He also said Stefan Tucker, the Washington firm's founder who recently completed a term as chairman of the American Bar Association's tax section, shared the same values as Venable Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti.

"His commitment to the profession resembles Ben's commitment to the profession," Shea said. "Organizations follow their leaders."

Pub Date: 9/09/99

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