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Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek to merge with Kansas City firm (UPDATE)

Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek CEO Paul Eberle

Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek CEO Paul Eberle

One of Wisconsin’s biggest law firms will be merging with a Kansas City, Mo., law firm.

Effective July 1, Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC will combine with Husch Blackwell and go forward operating under that name.

Husch Blackwell was the fourth largest law firm by revenue in Missouri in 2015, according to forthcoming research in Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s Money 20 rankings. The two firms had combined annual revenues of about $346 million in 2015, according to Friday’s press release.

Husch Blackwell has offices in London and 16 U.S. cities, including Houston, Denver and Washington, D.C. It is a litigation and business law firm.

Paul Eberle, chief executive for Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, emphasized Friday that the move is about the firm’s growth and that there will not be any downsizing.

“Cutting was not ever a part of the discussion,” he said. “It’s not part of the plan. We believe the industry focus is going to be a growth opportunity for us, and we think we are going to be able to do more for our clients. For us, this is bigger and better and more. And we think our clients are going to enjoy working with us in this new combined firm.”

Eberle said the biggest change clients will see is that WHD attorneys, all of whom are expected to be retained in the merger between the two firms, will have more resources and industry knowledge.

Husch Blackwell, he noted, works in the same industries as WHD’s clients, including agribusiness and health care. Eberle said WHD had been in talks with Husch Blackwell about the merger since November.

After seeing year-over-year increases in revenue and profit per partner, WHD has been focusing on growing, he said. Two years ago, the firm started hiring attorneys from law school and other law firms.

“That kind of growth is time consuming and hard to do on any kind of scale,” Eberle said.

But the firm was looking for growth that was bigger and faster, with more depth. Before the talks with Husch Blackwell, WHD had been in talks with more than 20 firms of different sizes, looking for a way to grow more quickly, Eberle said. But those talks did not materialize.

The move indicates a healthy legal market in Wisconsin.

“I think it’s a great testament to the state of Wisconsin and the legal market here,” Eberle said. “Husch Blackwell is a bigger firm, but they are combining with us because they certainly like what we’re doing and they like the legal market that we’re in.”

The two firms, once combined, will have more than 700 attorneys in 19 cities across the country and in London.

Husch’s CEO and managing partner Greg Smith said Friday that the combination made sense as a growth opportunity, according to Missouri Lawyers Weekly, a sister publication of the Wisconsin Law Journal.

“We like to think our industry is transforming as we speak,” he said. “We get the changes that are taking place and instead of waiting around we’re kind of leading the way.”

Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, a full-service law firm that started in Milwaukee, has 140 attorneys, with 133 based in Wisconsin. The firm has offices in Waukesha County, Madison and Chicago.

About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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