Pillsbury and Fulbright headed to the altar?

Reported merger discussions could create 1,500-lawyer firm.
By: Casey Sullivan
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP is said to be in merger discussions with Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, according to three sources working closely with lawyers at the firm.

One source said the discussions are far enough down the line that both firms have made an agreement not to poach lawyers from each other for a certain period of time, which typically happens after financial information is exchanged.

Sources say the talks with Fulbright are the most recent in a series of merger negotiations Pillsbury has entertained in recent years. Since taking the helm in 2006, firm Chairman Jim Rishwain has worked to build a larger platform for Pillsbury in key practice areas that firm leaders have pegged as critical to today’s global economy.

“I think Rishwain was picked as the managing partner because I think he very much channels what the bulk of partners want to achieve,” said corporate attorney Lior O. Nuchi, who left Pillsbury in 2010 for McDermott Will & Emery, before moving to Alston & Bird LLP last month. “They want to do whatever it takes to become a pre-eminent law firm in the world today.

Nuchi, two ex-Pillsbury lawyers and a consultant confirmed Pillsbury had been in talks with several other firms since Rishwain took over, including Nixon Peabody LLP, Chadbourne & Parke LLP and Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge (before that firm merged with Wildman Harold Allen & Dixon), as well as at least two European firms. Pillsbury, with origins in San Francisco, employs 681 lawyers in 15 international offices and focuses its work on energy and natural resources, financial services, real estate, construction and technology sectors. Fulbright, a full service firm founded in Houston with roughly 900 lawyers and 17 international offices, services businesses, governments and non-profit organizations in energy, bankruptcy, corporate transactions and real estate. Together, the firm would boast roughly 1,500 lawyers throughout 25 to 30 offices.

Industry watchers said a match-up with Fulbright makes a lot of sense, noting Fulbright would complement Pillsbury’s energy work with a strong platform in Texas. Pillsbury would add a significant West Coast component to Fulbright’s reach, with seven of its 15 international offices scattered throughout California. Both firms have similar revenue and profits per partner figures.

“The coupling also adds a lot of bandwidth to each other’s global growth objectives,” said recruiter Sandy Lechtick, who has relationships with lawyers inside both firms. “For instance, Fulbright has a Beijing office and Pillsbury has a Shanghai office, so the deal adds heft to their China footprint. Both have London operations and there is some good overlap there. Fulbright’s Munich, Dubai and Hong Kong operations add to Pillsbury’s reach.

Rishwain declined to comment Thursday on the reported merger talks with Fulbright. But, in an interview with the Daily Journal two weeks ago, Rishwain didn’t rule out a merger as an avenue to expansion.

“Our growth strategy in the US is to get stronger where we are, in New York, D.C., Texas and California,” he said. “Over time we have aspirations to become a global firm. I will just say there are many tactics and approaches to getting to that place. We are open to pursuing every single approach.

Fulbright spokesman Dan McKenna did not respond to a request for comment before deadline Thursday.

casey_sullivan@dailyjournal.com

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