Norton Rose merger expected to boost Fulbright’s operations in California

By Ameera Butt
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski LLP and London- based Norton Rose announced their merger Wednesday, pushing up their ranks to 3,800 lawyers in 55 offices worldwide.

The married firm will be known as Norton Rose Fulbright once the transaction is completed next summer, according to Fulbright.

Sanford “Sandy” Lechtick, founder of legal search firm Esquire Inc., said on a global stage the merger is a good thing. But he said it remains to be seen how it will impact the Los Angeles operations, which had been slow to expand in recent years.

“Fulbright has historically had a pretty solid operation in Los Angeles, but where they fell down somewhat was what a lot of firms had done and that is they often waited too long to bring in the young blood, the next wave of high energy partners to assume leadership roles,” he said.

That created a “bit of a stale atmosphere,” he said, which minimized the sense of excitement and momentum and growth.

“They brought in a couple but not as many as they should have in the last decade. It goes to the point of if firms are going to grow their operations, especially in super competitive Los Angeles, they need to focus a lot of attention on recruitment,” he said.

Kenneth L. Stewart, chair-elect of Fulbright’s executive committee, said the firm had been working with Norton Rose for about a decade.

“We knew they operated the same way we do, [and] that’s going to springboard us to have a global offering with another 2,900 lawyers and we’ll add about 800 to 900 to the system,” he said.

Fulbright has 850 lawyers in 17 offices worldwide, according to the firm.

Stewart said both firms had similar cultural and practice fits, Stewart said. For example, their intellectual property, infrastructure, energy and health care practices fit very closely, he said.

For Norton Rose, the merger provides a presence in the United States, Stewart said.

“That was a big missing piece in their global infrastructure and global build-out,” he said.

Fulbright’s Los Angeles office was established in a 1989 merger with Reavis & McGrath, which brought in about 25 lawyers in Los Angeles, Stewart said. The office has since grown to about 65 lawyers including lateral additions, he said. “We’ve always thought of the Los Angeles office as being very successful and [it’s] been financially successful for us,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a strong litigation department, which is a marquee strength of the firm, but we also have very strong practices out there in municipal bonds, health care, labor [and] environmental, and those are sort of the key practice areas.

Major, Lindsey & Africa recruiter Peter Ocko in Los Angeles said the merger will not only enhance Fulbright’s international profile, but will also utilize Norton’s strengths such as banking and financial services.

“From a quality perspective, it’s a good match,” he said. “Fulbright has always been a well-respected firm in Los Angeles. It’s been stable nationally. It’s had a very strong energy practice and it’s a firm that is trusted by a lot of general counsels so it has a good brand among legal executives.

He said Fulbright was a conservatively run firm.

“I think they’ve been selective about folks into Los Angeles, but they certainly are in growth mode, Ocko said.

Earlier this year, merger talks between Fulbright and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP officially went south because of a pending leadership change at Fulbright and concerns from within Pillsbury about Fulbright’s unfunded pension plan, according to media reports.

Emails to Norton Rose were not answered by deadline.

© 2012 The Daily Journal Corporation.
All rights reserved.