Similar philosophies and cultures make Smith Moore Leatherwood and Fox Rothchild an ideal fit
By Vincent Harris
Last September, Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP—a Southeast-based firm with long-time Greenville ties—announced they would be merging with the Philadelphia-based firm Fox Rothschild LLP, with the merger becoming effective November 1.
Founded in 1907, Fox Rothschild is one of the biggest firms in the country, with 27 offices employing more than 900 attorneys, while Smith Moore Leatherwood can trace its Greenville origins to 1945.
In a press release issued at the time, Fox Rothschild’s chair, Mark L. Silow, said, “Expanding our footprint in the Southeast through this merger is an important milestone for the firm. We have explored opportunities in this region for many years and are delighted to have found in Smith Moore Leatherwood a firm with a superb roster of talented attorneys who share our values, our approach to client service, and our entrepreneurial focus.”
For Frank Williams, a former partner at Smith Moore Leatherwood and a current managing partner at Fox Rothchild in Greenville, the firm was a good fit for what Fox Rothschild was looking to accomplish.
“While significantly different in size, we shared a similar client-focused philosophy and culture,” Williams says of the two firms. “Both firms’ attorneys possess an entrepreneurial spirit and drive to innovate, and unlike many AmLaw 100 firms (a list of the most successful firms in America published by American Law magazine and based on number of attorneys, profits per partner, and overall revenue), Fox Rothschild’s client base has a significant percentage of middle-market and privately held businesses. It really has been a near seamless combination.”
“Near-seamless,” perhaps, but the merger, which adds Smith Moore Leatherwood’s 130 attorneys and six locations across North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina to the Fox Rothschild brand, took some time to make official. The two firms actually first began discussing in December 2017. In fact, Smith Moore Leatherwood wasn’t initially that interested in merging with anyone.
“SML had a strong regional presence in the Southeast and, initially, was not looking to combine with a national firm,” Williams says. “Our merger with Fox Rothschild had its roots in work Smith Moore Leatherwood was doing with Mike Short of LawVision (a consulting company created to help law firms build revenue, maintain client loyalty, and explore potential growth opportunities). Mike asked us to meet with another client of his, Fox Rothschild, which was without presence in the Southeast. After an initial meeting, both firms’ leadership concluded that Smith Moore Leatherwood and Fox Rothschild complemented each other in many ways and that significant potential existed.”
The merger discussions commenced immediately after that meeting.
And there was a little manageable chaos during late-2018 stages of the merger, which Williams says is more or less unavoidable while two large companies learn each other’s practices and systems.
“Every merger involves a transition period,” he says, “and ours was no exception. Technology and practices needed to align, and new processes and procedures need to be learned. Our merger also took effect on November 1st, which is always a busy time for everyone, with the holiday season falling shortly thereafter.”
As we move into the spring of 2019, however, Williams says that the two firms have fallen into alignment.
“I’d say we have hit our stride,” he says. “We’re making gains for clients and earning new business rooted in our combined strengths, attorneys are benefitting from new ideas and fresh perspectives from one another, and we’re only beginning to capitalize on the many opportunities from this merger. There is so much potential, and I’m excited to see what the rest of this year brings for us.”