Piper, Rudnick join ranks of largest U.S. law firms; Vote is unanimous for merger creating 750-lawyer business; Legal affairs


Baltimore-based Piper & Marbury LLP, the state's largest law firm, has completed its merger with Rudnick & Wolfe of Chicago to become one of the largest firms in the nation, the firms said yesterday.

Partners in both cities voted unanimously Saturday to approve the merger creating Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe, said Francis B. Burch Jr., a former chairman of Piper & Marbury who will be co-chairman of the merged firm along with Lee I. Miller, his counterpart at Rudnick & Wolfe.

With more than 750 lawyers in eight cities, the new firm would have ranked 11th in size on the National Law Journal's list last year.

According to American Lawyer magazine, Piper had revenue of $128 million last year and Rudnick and Wolfe had revenue of $112.5 million. The total of $240.5 million would have placed the combined firm 35th nationwide in revenue on the magazine's top 100 list last year.

Leaders of the firm said the merger is the largest in U.S. history involving firms of approximately the same size. "The critical focus of this merger is to serve our clients better," said Miller, formerly managing partner at Rudnick & Wolfe.

Rudnick & Wolfe, with about 350 lawyers, was known for strong real estate, franchise and distribution practices. With about 400 lawyers, including 190 in Baltimore, Piper's strength lay in venture capital, emerging companies, litigation and regulatory work.

Both have practices in intellectual property and information technology.

"We had talked to a number of fine firms in recent years but never found one with the right fit," Burch said. "With Rudnick & Wolfe, however, we quickly realized that our firm philosophies and practices are truly compatible."

Law firms are joining forces throughout the profession. Many are merging to respond to the needs of growing clients. Others believe they will need to be large to increase profits.

The merger joins Piper offices in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Reston, Va., with Rudnick offices in Chicago, Washington, Tampa, Fla., and Dallas. Jeffrey F. Liss, a partner in Piper & Marbury's Washington office, will be the new firm's chief operating officer.

Burch said the new firm will gross more than $280 million this year and more than $300 million next year.

Rudnick & Wolfe was formed in 1936, Piper & Marbury in the mid-19th century.

Burch said yesterday that the new firm's first priority will be expanding the New York office, which will add six lawyers this week, bringing the total to 63. "We expect to be well north of 100" next year, he said.

Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe also plans to open an office on the West Coast in an attempt to tap into that region's growing economy.

Burch said it was too early to tell how many lawyers the firm will add there or whether the additions will result from other mergers.

"That would depend on how attractive the opportunities are," Burch said.

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