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Century-old firms combine forces in Madison

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//January 17, 2012//

Century-old firms combine forces in Madison

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//January 17, 2012//

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Less than a month ago, attorneys at two Madison-based, mid-sized law firms were competitors.

But as of Jan. 1, lawyers for Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field LLP and Lathrop & Clark LLP joined forces to create Boardman & Clark LLP.

The venture is neither a merger nor a takeover, said Lathrop attorney Paul Johnson, but a reinvention of the two firms, both of which have been in existence for more than century.

“Both are dissolving,” he said, “and reforming as a new entity.”

The catalyst for the combination, which has been in the works since 2010, Johnson said, was to expand the reach of both firms and attract new business.

With a total of 69 attorneys – 46 from Boardman and 23 from Lathrop – the new firm is now the second largest based in Madison, behind DeWitt Ross & Stevens SC, which has 86 attorneys.

“The market for legal services is very competitive right now,” Johnson said. “By combining the two firms, we’re trying to reach out to as many different areas as we can.”

While there is some overlap in practice areas between the now-combined firms, such as labor and employment, and real estate, the combined operation adds some new areas as well, such as intellectual property and dealership and trade association law.

Johnson acknowledged that combining two historic mid-size law firms isn’t common and said he expects a transitional period to get everyone on the same page.

“It’s two partnerships with very similar cultures,” he said. “But it’s safe to say that there is a lot of work to be done and issues that have not yet been fully resolved yet.”

Until October, when Lathrop’s current lease expires, both firms will still operate primarily as separate entities to allow their attorneys to collect on existing client accounts, Johnson said.

Attorneys and staff for both firms eventually will work together at Boardman’s current location at 1 S. Pickney St. in Madison.

The combination has not resulted in any layoffs, Johnson said, and no lawyers quit during negotiations or since the formal announcement of the collaboration.

“There is enough work,” he said, “that we didn’t have to lose anybody.”

But given the size of the new partnership, and the rarity of such a deal between law firms in Wisconsin, Johnson acknowledged the risk if things don’t work out.

“I hope we never get to that question,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer would be.”


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