In the law firm merger and expansion game, suburban locations like Long Island are gaining luster, experts say.
For many years, the region's suburban markets have been overshadowed by New York City, which has the second largest number of law firm branch offices behind Washington D.C., said Lisa R. Smith, a law firm consultant with Fairfax Associates in Washington.
"It's obviously a corporate center and a financial center," she said.
Long Island, however, has been attracting increased interest as remote-work patterns emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We've seen a couple of firms open Long Island offices because of that," Smith said. "Firms are more willing to open an office where [lawyers] live."
In January, for instance, Greenberg Traurig LLP, ranked as a top 10 U.S. law firm, expanded by opening Long Island offices in Bridgehampton and Garden City and hiring four partners from Uniondale-based law firm Farrell Fritz.
In May, Bond, Schoeneck & King, a mid-size Syracuse firm, added 23 lawyers and offices in Melville and West Palm Beach through a merger with Lazer, Aptheker, Rosella & Yedid.
Ralph Rosella, former managing partner of Lazer Aptheker, said that though the firm was not in financial distress, it had discussed a merger with potential partners in an effort to expand beyond its specialties, including real estate, trusts and estates, and offer a full menu of services.
That lack of breadth came into play when clients needed specialized work in tax, health care or environmental work, forcing the firm to tap outside lawyers, he said. Attorneys in a larger firm, meanwhile, can call on in-house expertise.
Another incentive: A merger with a larger firm could help Lazer, Aptheker fend off attempts by New York City firms to poach suburban lawyers willing to consider a limited commuting schedule.
"As soon as the pandemic hit, there was no need for suburban lawyers to go into the city," Rosella said. Some of the law firms only required their attorneys to come to the office twice a week, an attractive proposition for Long Islanders.
"The city firms were now taking lawyers from the suburbs," he said. "Those firms were seeking our lawyers."
For Bond, Schoeneck, which already had offices in Manhattan and Garden City, the merger with Lazer Aptheker provided an outpost in the regional "hub" of Melville and specialties that meshed well with the upstate firm's practice areas of labor and employment, said Kevin Bernstein, chairman of Bond, Schoeneck's management committee.
"You're looking for … complementary results," he said. "We're not just looking for one plus one equals two."
The Long Island expansion followed Bond, Schoeneck's 2021 merger with Manhattan-based Putney, Twombly, Hall & Hirson, a 12-attorney firm.
In some cases, Long Island law firms are the acquirers.
In April, for instance, Woodbury-based Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck absorbed the Myers Law Group in Dallas with six attorneys.
In February, Uniondale-based Sahn Ward Braff Koblenz announced a merger with Weinstein, Kaplan & Cohen, a divorce and family law firm in Garden City.
The 25 mergers nationwide in the first half of 2022 kept the year on pace to match the pandemic-hobbled year of 2021, according to data from Fairfax Associates.
That was below the historic average of 32 first-half mergers from 2012 to 2021, the data showed.
Unlike corporate mergers, law firm mergers generally don't include a financial transaction, though attorneys in an acquired firm could find their compensation has improved in their new home.
Smith said that interest in law-firm mergers has remained strong in recent years, but the volume of transactions was slowed by pandemic-driven curbs on in-person contact.
"Law firms tend to be people-based," she said. "Meetings tend to be an important component."