Womble Carlyle, NC’s biggest law firm, combines with UK firm

The state’s largest law firm is combining with a British firm, doubling the size of each firm and giving the North Carolina partner its first international office.

Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, a Southeastern regional powerhouse that traces its roots to Winston-Salem in 1876, will lose its marquee name, and become Womble Bond Dickinson.

Under the transatlantic combination, which becomes effective in October, the U.S. and U.K. firms will collaborate but will operate autonomously with independent management, akin to two subsidiaries. The two firms had previously announced an alliance in June 2016 and are now formalizing the business relationship with changes in the name and board structure of the organizations. (The name is already changed on the firm’s website.)

“Their clients become our clients and vice-versa,” said Betty Temple, Womble Carlyle’s CEO. “It’s an asset for our local market here when companies from the U.K. invest here or open operations here, they can have a law firm locally. They don’t have to go to New York or D.C.”

The deal will not result in layoffs, Womble Carlyle spokesman Bruce Buchannan said. Womble Carlyle has offices in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia and in California’s Silicon Valley.

Temple and Jonathan Blair, the managing partner of Bond Dickinson, will co-chair the combined board of directors, the firms said Thursday in an announcement. Temple will lead U.S. operations while Blair will lead the U.K. lawyers.

Womble Carlyle has about 500 lawyers in 15 offices, while Bond Dickinson has about 580 lawyers in eight offices. The firms’ combined revenue will exceed $410 million.

Womble Carlyle generated revenue of $281 million in 2016, ranking as the 114th largest law firm in the United States, according to the American Lawyer publication.

The two firms will remain financially independent. Temple said that keeping the finances separate has tax benefits as a result of each firm not having to file tax returns in both countries.

The firms blend well because they have a similar culture and values, Temple said, which was borne out during the informal alliance created last year. Temple would not share details from the discussion of Womble Carlyle’s 174 partners about changing the firm’s name, but said it is ultimately not the most important thing.

“The bigger issue is what we are versus the name,” she said. “For years, frankly, we’ve been called Womble by most of our clients.”

The firms are calling the deal a “strategic alliance” in which the U.S. lawyers will not be practicing law in England and the U.K. lawyers will not be advising clients in the United States, Buchannan said. But the firms have clients with business interests in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Womble Carlyle is the product of seven previous mergers as the firm expanded its reach across the Southeast over the years. The firm opened its Raleigh office in 1982, and in 1995 became the first North Carolina law firm to establish a website, according to its website.

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