September 21, 2014 / 12:36 AM / 5 years ago

Exclusive: Law firms Bingham, Morgan Lewis, agree to merge - sources

(Reuters) - Leaders of two of the United States’ largest law firms, Boston-based Bingham McCutchen and Philadelphia’s Morgan Lewis & Bockius, have agreed to merge, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The combination would create one of the top five largest law firms in the world, with more than 2,000 lawyers and $2 billion in revenue, according to a Reuters analysis of financial figures in the American Lawyer, a trade publication.

Bingham partners received a voicemail on Friday from the firm’s managing partner, Steven Browne, saying an agreement to merge had been signed and that they would be briefed on the details of the combination in the coming week, according to the three sources.

It was not immediately clear if partners at Morgan Lewis had been informed of the deal or when the partnerships of the firms would vote on the combination.

To be sure, many law firms engage in merger talks that are not consummated, but it is rare for a law firm merger to reach a vote and not go forward.

Bingham leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nor did leaders at Morgan Lewis.

For the past several months, Bingham, with approximately 750 lawyers, has been in search of a merger partner after revenue fell in 2013 and partners defected. Talks with Morgan Lewis have been ongoing at least since July.

Bingham’s financial woes are emblematic of the ills facing many major U.S. law firms, which have felt pressure to consolidate because of sluggish demand as major corporations slash their budgets and demand that lawyers discount fees.

Bingham, known for its involvement in cases like the Detroit bankruptcy and Amazon.com (AMZN.O) in a large abusive transfer pricing case, has been hit by the winding down of major cases, including the 2010 BP oil spill and an investigation of a $1.7 billion accounting fraud at Japanese endoscope maker Olympus Co[OLYOP.UL] Ltd.

Morgan Lewis, which has more than 1,200 lawyers and is known for its labor and employment practice, is currently representing the Mortgage Bankers Association in a challenge to the Obama administration’s regulation on overtime status for loan officers that the Supreme Court agreed to take up next term.

One of Morgan Lewis’s former partners, Robert Manfred, is to become the next commissioner of Major League Baseball, while another, Philip Miscimarra, was sworn in as a member of the National Labor Relations Board last year.

Last week, 22 partners jumped ship from Bingham’s London, Hong Kong and Frankfurt offices to join Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The partners, who were from the firm’s marquee restructuring practice and other practice groups, left partly because they did not agree with the plans to merge with Morgan Lewis, according to two people familiar with the matter.

(This story corrects verb tense in paragraph 7)

Reporting by Casey Sullivan; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Dan Grebler

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