Holland & Knight to merge with Nashville law firm in first big 2023 combination

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  • Holland & Knight to combine with 280-lawyer Waller
  • Merger will create firm with nearly 2,000 lawyers in 35 offices

(Reuters) - U.S.-founded global law firm Holland & Knight and Nashville-based Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis have agreed to merge, the law firms said Wednesday.

The deal, to be completed during the first quarter, will create a firm with nearly 2,000 lawyers, they said. The combined firm will operate under Holland & Knight's name.

Law firm combinations increased in 2022 after a pandemic-era slowdown, and legal industry watchers expect more to come this year. Only two combinations between firms with more than 100 lawyers took effect last year.

Holland & Knight, which was founded in Florida and has about 1,700 lawyers, recently grew through a merger with 275-lawyer Thompson & Knight in August 2021.

The deal with 280-lawyer Waller will boost Holland & Knight's healthcare capabilities, in addition to private equity, financial services, real estate and litigation work, the firms said.

"We look forward to joining forces with one of the most established and well-respected brands in healthcare law, along with remarkable capabilities in many other key industries and practices that are well aligned with our strategic initiatives," Steven Sonberg, managing partner of Holland & Knight, said in a statement.

The move gives Holland & Knight a base in Nashville, a growing legal market that has drawn in several big firms in the past two years, including K&L Gates, Spencer Fane and Womble Bond Dickinson.

Nashville is "home to many of the country's most significant healthcare companies and a destination of choice for corporate relocations," the firms said in the statement.

Waller's Nashville office has more than 235 lawyers, the bulk of the firm. It has other outposts in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Birmingham, Alabama and Austin, Texas. The combined firm will have 35 offices globally, the firms said.

"We didn't start the year thinking we'd end it in a combination," Waller chair Matt Burnstein said in an interview. "Neither firm had a consultant out there to find itself a merger partner," he said, calling it a "very fortuitous introduction by two of our partners."

Beyond the mergers, Holland & Knight added several teams of lawyers in 2022, including a group of private equity attorneys in Charlotte, an energy team in Washington, D.C. and Houston and a real estate team in Los Angeles.

"Group additions will be an important part of what we do going forward," as the firm will need to replenish ranks with retiring lawyers and changing practice dynamics, Sonberg said in an interview.

(NOTE: This story has been updated with additional comment from the two firms' leaders.)

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com