Largest Law Firms : A Look at the Trends and Changes
By: Dan Wise
Over the past decade, the lineup of the largest law firms in NH has seen some significant changes. There have been several mergers and acquisitions of generations-old law firms and one major dissolution. But visible through the dust kicked up by these recent comings-and-goings is that some things haven’t changed.
Top Three Holding Steady
According to November 2012 NH Bar member statistics, the top three law firms in the state in 2012 – McLane Graf, Raulerson & Middleton; Devine Millimet & Branch, and Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green – are the same three that were atop our lists from 2001 and 1996. For a look at the largest public sector and public interest firms in the state, see the chart on page 31.
Among the top three firms on our Top 20 list, the numbers of NH-licensed attorneys have not changed much from the 2001 list. While all three firms have gone through expansions over the past decade, by the time of this snapshot, their ranks in post-recession 2012 are little changed from 1996 and 2001.
Top 20 of 2012 NH Bar Largest Law Firms
No. of NH Bar Members
McLane Graf Raulerson & Middleton, PA
Devine Millimet & Branch, PA
Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green
Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC
Shaheen & Gordon, PA
Pierce Atwood, LLP
Wadleigh Starr & Peters, PLLC
Orr & Reno, PA
Rath Young & Pignatelli, PC
Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios, LLP
Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson, PA
Nixon Peabody, LLP
Hinckley Allen & Snyder, LLP
Gallagher Callahan & Gartrell
Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer, PC
Upton & Hatfield, LLP
Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon
Donahue Tucker & Ciandella, PLLC
Getman Schulthess & Steere, PA
Cleveland Waters and Bass, PA
Ransmeier & Spellman, PC
Nelson Kinder & Mosseau, PC
Cooke Little Rosenblatt & Manson, PLLC
RiverStone Resources, LLC
Wescott Dyer Fitzgerald & Nichols
Cooper Cargill Chant PA
Consider: McLane in 1996 had 55 lawyers on staff, and grew to 70 by 2001. Today, it has 67. Sheehan, the top-listed firm in 1996 with 72 lawyers, dropped to 43 in 2001 and today is back to 55 attorneys and is ensconced in the #3 position. Devine Millimet, through all three rankings, has remained at the #2 position and the number of NH lawyers at the firm, during our snapshot lists, has barely budged, going from 62 in 1996 to 66 in 2001 and settling in at 60 in our latest count.
A Gaping Hole
Wiggin & Nourie, an institution in the New Hampshire legal community that had roots back to the 1860s and high-ranking alumni, including the chief judge of the US District Court, a NH Supreme Court justice, a member of the superior court, a Circuit Court judge, and the NH Attorney General and the Chief of his Civil Division. The firm abruptly announced its dissolution last January, rapidly winding down its operation in less than two months.
At the time, it had about 20 lawyers on its roster, having experienced an exodus of about 20 others during the past three or four years. In 2007, Wiggin & Nourie ambitiously expanded, acquiring a large space - with plenty of room to add lawyers -over two floors in a Manchester mill building. But it turned out its launch of an ambitious growth plan, which included new debt for the new space, coincided with the start of the severe and prolonged economic contraction. In an interview with NH Business Review when the firm closed last year, then-managing partner Jon Ross said that as the firm lost lawyers due to market conditions, the firm’s decline accelerated. "If you have a debt structure that is bigger than your legal manpower, then people’s earnings are decreased by that," he said. After the closing, all of the remaining Wiggin & Nourie lawyers soon found jobs within the state. Eight ex-Wiggin & Nourie lawyers and their legal assistants regrouped to staff the new Manchester office of Primmer, Piper, Eggleston & Cramer, a Vermont-based law firm, which now occupies the twelfth spot (including both Manchester and Littleton offices), tied with Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell.
Shaheen & Gordon more than doubled in size from 2001 to 2012, growing from 14 to 31 attorneys, including new hires and lateral hires. The firm also went from two offices (Dover and Concord) to five (adding Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth). "Bigger does not always mean better, but the last decade has had some fun," said partner Steven Gordon in response to the news. In a future issue, we will profile some of the faster growing firms and explore how they grew during such a challenging economic period.
The view from McLane’s offices in Manchester.
Another firm that has risen in prominence in New Hampshire is Pierce Atwood, which acquired Sanders & McDermott, a Hampton-based firm that was #20 on the 2001 list with 11 attorneys. Sanders & McDermott was acquired later that same year by Pierce Atwood, a Maine-based regional law firm with more than 150 attorneys in Maine, Portsmouth, NH, Providence, RI, Boston, and Washington, DC, and an office in Sweden.
Pierce Atwood, by overall size (counting total number of attorneys) is the second-largest regional firm with a major New Hampshire presence. Topping the list is Nixon Peabody, with more than 700 attorneys in the US, Europe and Asia. It has 20 attorneys who are licensed in New Hampshire, all but three of whom are based in Manchester.
Nixon Peabody was in the vanguard of regional firms establishing a significant NH presence through a combination of hiring established NH practitioners and encouraging involvement in NH community and professional circles. This year’s Top 20 list features seven law firms that are based outside New Hampshire but employ high numbers of NH Bar members in their local offices. (In a future issue, we will exploure further the regional firms’ presence in NH.)
Rural Firms Merge
This year’s Top 20 list also illustrates the impact of consolidations that have taken place among homegrown firms in smaller NH cities and towns.
In 2001, the Upton Hatfield firm was born of the merger of the Upton & Sanders firm of Concord and the Hatfield, Moran & Barry law firm, of Hillsborough. Since then, the firm has expanded its geographic reach by opening offices in North Conway and Portsmouth headed by partners formerly based in Concord.
New to our list are two firms north of Concord. In Laconia, Wescott, Dyer, Fitzgerald & Nichols, PA, was formed in January 2009 by the merger of two Lakes Region law firms, Wescott, Millham & Dyer and Fitzgerald & Nichols. On the other side of the state, Cooper Cargill Chant PA, in North Conway, now has an office in Berlin, thanks to its acquisition in 2008 of the Berlin firm, Bergeron, Hanson and Bornstein.
A Multidisciplinary Firm
Riverstone Resources, LLC, also known as Riverstone Group, debuted at #19 this year, and is the first multi-disciplinary professional services firm on our list. Riverstone, with 11 NH lawyers, is part of an international insurance services company providing claims handling, litigation management and reinsurance collections, to name a few of its services. The Manchester, NH, office of Riverstone employs more than 160 people, including lawyers and professionals in finance, insurance, and human resources.