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Dentons double merger adds 300 lawyers to create ‘first truly national US law firm’

Dentons will have more than 1,000 lawyers across 33 US markets following the latest in a long line of tie-ups announced since the start of the summer.

After expanding in South America, Asia Pacific and Africa through ten mergers since July, the globetrotting firm has announced it is to combine with 175-lawyer Midwest firm Bingham Greenebaum and 140-strong Pennsylvania-bred Cohen & Grigsby.

Subject to approval by the partnerships and expected to launch in January 2020, the tie-up with the two US shops is the first step in what chief executive Elliott Portnoy (pictured) described as a plan to ‘create the first truly national US law firm’.

‘Clients want to work with a firm that can support the wide variety of specialties they demand in the markets where they do business but today no full service law firm has offices in all [of the] 20 largest US legal markets,’ said Portnoy, describing the rationale behind what the firm dubbed ‘Project Golden Spike’.

Borne of the 2012 merger between Indianapolis-bred Bingham McHale and Louisville-based Greenebaum Doll & McDonald, Bingham Greenebaum has six offices across Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, covering transactional, litigation, estate planning, tax and employee benefits.

Cohen & Grigsby launched in 1981 and has offices in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Naples, Florida, with a focus on mid-market M&A and private equity. It also covers areas including employment, IP, real estate, public finance, litigation and bankruptcy.

At launch, the combined firm will have almost 1,100 lawyers across 33 US markets.

The combinations announced today will have a different structure than usual in that lawyers at member firms will get dual partnership status, becoming partners at the newly formed Dentons US while remaining partners at their existing firm. Dentons’ chair Joe Andrew told Legal Business: ‘Individual firms will maintain their client relationships, control rates, governance, determine who will be a partner, but also be part of a national and global firm. Everyone who is a partner in the US will be a member of two partnerships.’

He said that the idea for the project was first conceived about two years ago with the realisation that US firms were small in proportion to the size of the market. ‘It is odd, since all of the largest US companies are spread all across the country.’

‘We have spent one-and-a-half years understanding how we can build from scratch the first national firm in the US to objectively improve client service,’ said Andrew. ‘If you can do that, revenue and all those things will follow. This became the number one highest priority for the firm.’

He added that the project was named Golden Spike to mark the 150th anniversary of the railway line that ‘brought the US together’.

The two firms announcing the combination with Dentons today, which will be known as Dentons Bingham Greenebaum and Dentons Cohen & Grigsby, helped conceive the project alongside two other firms that are expected to officially join the project next year. Andrew said Dentons was in conversations with ‘more than half a dozen’ other firms.

These latest mergers mean Dentons has left further behind the 10,000-lawyer mark across 73 countries. The expansion spree began at the end of July, when Dentons announced it was merging with New Zealand firm Kensington Swan.

In the following two months, nine other mergers followed in Honduras, South Korea, Uruguay, Argentina, as well as five African countries.