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Law firm sees opportunity across Atlantic

| Saturday, July 17, 2004

Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP, looking across the Atlantic in its latest expansion effort, said it is in merger discussions with the English law firm of Nicholson Graham & Jones.

Pittsburgh's largest law firm said the deal, if finalized, would rank as one of the larger trans-Atlantic mergers in the law industry and the largest involving an American firm without an existing presence in the U.K.

The combined firm, which would be known as Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, is expected to have fee revenue exceeding $500 million in 2005, its first full year of existence.

Nicholson Graham, a 150-year-old firm based in London, has 135 lawyers.

Kirkpatrick & Lockhart has 800 lawyers, 1,700 employees overall, and operates 10 offices across the United States. It employs about 750 locally, including about 270 lawyers.

The management committee of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and the Nicholson Graham partnership board have approved the talks, which began in March. If the talks proceed satisfactorily, formal proposals for the merger could be presented for partnership approvals by the September-October time frame.

"With substantial offices in New York and London and with offices across the United States from New England to California, we believe that our combined firm will be well positioned for the globalization challenges of the 21st century," said a joint statement from Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Chairman Peter Kalis and Nicholson Graham Chairman Michael Johns.

"Chief among those challenges is the ability to serve the needs of our clients with a seamless efficiency, no matter where they arise," they said. "By combining our firms, K&L and NGJ will meet this challenge with talented lawyers, critical mass and practice diversity on both sides of the Atlantic."

Kalis and John said further expansion into continental Europe and other key U.S. markets will be an early priority for the combined firm.

One of those markets could be Chicago, which already has been on the radar screen for Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.

In addition to its offices in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, the firm has a presence in some of the nation's largest cities, including long-standing offices in Washington, D.C., Miami, Boston and New York, and since 2000, it has added offices in Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco and Newark.

"I'm sure the merger is well thought out, and I wish them well," said Thomas Van Kirk, managing partner and chief executive of Buchanan Ingersoll, another of the city's top law firms.

Van Kirk said he is not familiar enough with Nicholson Graham to comment on what benefits it would bring to the merger, but he noted the deal would be in keeping with a trend evident for at least a dozen years or so -- with U.S. law firms looking for overseas partners, and English and other European firms looking for merger deals here, with varying degrees of success.

"I do know that England is a tough market and an expensive market," he said.

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