Wilmer, Cutler to Merge with Hale & Dorr

I spent three years as an associate in the London office of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and still have warm feelings towards the firm, even though it has grown a lot in the decade plus since I was there, and there are fewer and fewer of the folks I knew. Now it's going to change (with the times?) by merging with Hale & Dorr, a Boston-based law firm, according to an email to firm alumni from WC&P managing chairman William Perlstein.

The initial word from the trade press seems positive, e.g. this item in the Washington Business Journal:

On the surface, the firms' practices mesh well: Both have strong litigation departments, and Wilmer's regulatory expertise combined with Hale and Dorr's corporate work would complement each other.

The firms' cultures also match, according to former attorneys at both firms.

“I would say that most law firm mergers are two dinosaurs mating, hoping to get a gazelle. That would not be the case here,” says Bill Flannery, president of WJF Institute, an Austin, Texas-based law firm marketing consultant. “Here you have two superior, cutting-edge, strong law firms. I'm very impressed by this merger, if in fact this is going to happen.”

Firm mergers tend to be difficult; for the sake of the folks I know at WC&P, I hope this one works out.

When I was there WC&P had a very intellectual and public-spirited culture, even in the branch offices (albeit slightly attenuated by distance); my sense is that this ethic has so far survived despite being under pressure from the exigencies of law firm economics. It's even possible, given the economies of scale in legal practice (which seems to push firms to being small boutiques or megafirms, with little room for midsize), that growth of this sort may be the only way to preserve that culture. It would be interesting, though, to hear from more recent and more senior WC&P alumni (hint).

Perstein's letter:

We are proud to announce some exciting news about WCP. The firm has agreed in principle to combine with Hale and Dorr LLP, effective by the end of May, to form Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.

We will be combining two great firms at a time when each standing alone is stronger than it has ever been. Each firm has several practices with unsurpassed reputations, and no single law firm now provides the same level of excellence in so many practice areas. We also share core values of professional excellence, exceptionally cordial work relationships, an emphasis on training and development, and a strong commitment to pro bono and the public interest. This is the first combination of two firms on The American Lawyer's “A List” of elite firms, a ranking based not only on financial performance, but also on pro bono service, the treatment and development of associates, and diversity.

The combination will be a true merger of equals between firms of roughly equivalent size. When the combination takes effect, we will be a firm of about 1000 lawyers, with offices in Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore, McLean VA, New York, Princeton NJ, Waltham MA, Berlin, Brussels, London, Munich, and Oxford.

For law students and lawyers joining us in the coming years, the combination will be very good news. It creates an even richer mix of the highest-level work, gives our lawyers a broader range of professional opportunities, and ensures the continued growth of our professional development and training programs. Both firms have historically provided superb professional development programs for their associates. In the 2003-4 Vault Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms, Hale and Dorr was ranked third in the country for training. Together, we expect to make our programs the best in the country. In addition, both firms share a long-standing commitment to individual mentoring that we fully expect to continue and build on.

In a world that is increasingly competitive globally as well as nationally, and in which the scale and breadth of a firm's practice matters, we look upon this opportunity as a tremendously exciting platform for continuing to build our practice — while enhancing our reputation for excellence and the culture in which we take so much pride. We are looking forward to the new paths that the combination will open up for the firm and all of its lawyers.

Sincerely yours,

William J. Perlstein Managing Partner

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