For the second time in a matter of months, a large Syracuse law firm is expanding its Western New York presence by merging with one of Buffalo’s biggest law firms, demonstrating increased interest by out-of-town firms in tapping into Buffalo’s resurgence.
On Wednesday, Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC announced it will combine with Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel LLP, creating one of the Buffalo Niagara region’s largest law firms and sharply bolstering Bond’s capabilities locally. Buffalo will now represent Bond’s second largest office overall, after its headquarters.
The merged Buffalo office, which will remain in Jaeckle’s space in the Avant building, will have 51 lawyers, and will remain the No. 4 law firm in Western New York by number of attorneys.
The combination, which will eliminate the Jaeckle Fleischmann Mugel name, takes effect Jan. 1.
The announcement follows the merger this year of Bond’s slightly smaller Syracuse rival, Hiscock & Barclay LLP, with Buffalo’s No. 3 law firm, Damon Morey LLP. That combination, which formed Barclay Damon, created the largest law firm in upstate New York, with 275 attorneys and more than 500 staff members.
Ironically, the two cross-town rivals from Syracuse will now share elevators in the Avant building, where Damon’s offices were before the merger.
Buffalo-based Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel was established in its current form in the 1950s, but has origins dating to the 1800s. It has about 40 lawyers, though some of them will retire at year’s end, said Joseph P. Kubarek, the firm’s managing partner.
Syracuse-based Bond Schoeneck & King has a total of 11 offices – nine in New York and one each in Florida and Kansas – and has had a Buffalo presence since 1997, when it acquired a labor and employment law firm. The firm was founded in 1897 by two Syracuse University law school graduates, and now has 230 lawyers in all. Its Buffalo office has 15 lawyers, said Daniel P. Forsyth, the office’s managing member.
Bond will move out of its leased space in Key Center. The newly combined firm will also continue to use Jaeckle Fleischmann’s office on Essjay Road in Amherst. When the deal is complete, Forsyth and Kubarek will be co-managing members of Bond’s Buffalo office.
The two firms said their combination is technically not a merger, because Jaeckle Fleischmann will cease doing business at the end of the year. “Legally, they’re not merging. We’re bringing over the people,” said Richard Hole, chairman of Bond’s management committee.
Decisions about the number of support staff jobs that will remain are yet to come. Jaeckle has about 40 support staff employees; Bond’s Buffalo office has seven, but Bond provides a lot of those services to its 11 offices from Syracuse.
“We haven’t gotten that all finalized,” Hole said. “In situations like this where you are combining two firms, there are certain services that are duplicated, so you have to examine just what makes sense when you come together.”
Leaders of the two firms started talking about a possible combination several months ago. They discovered they could fill gaps in their areas of practice by coming together.
That’s a pretty typical reason for law firm mergers, said Kevin Spitler, a sole practitioner and current president of the Erie County Bar Association. “Large firms sometimes need to consolidate, because although they have a lot of expertise, there may be areas where they’re lacking in expertise,” he said. “So the ability of firms to merge and be more full-service for corporate clients may be a reason for that.”
Consolidation among law firms is not a new trend, but Hole said this combination was driven by the two firms’ specific needs.
“We weren’t doing this in reaction to what’s going on,” Hole said. “This was the way we were able to fulfill our strategic plan and become a full service office and add a very high quality group of lawyers. That’s what motivated us. It wasn’t, ‘Well everybody’s doing it, so let’s us do it.’ That isn’t the way we operate.”
Jaeckle Fleischmann wanted to fill holes in areas such as health care and intellectual property, Kubarek said. “As we looked at our strategy, which is about three years old, we thought that the only really effective way to implement that strategy was to partner with a larger organization.”
On the other side, Bond in 2005 set out to turn its Buffalo location into a full-service office, Hole said. Bond began adding other types of practices, but hadn’t fully achieved its goal. But it found Jaeckle Fleischmann had what it needed.
“They had tax, trust and estates, corporate, environmental and real estate, none of which we had in Buffalo,” Hole said. “We certainly had that all across the state, but not here.”
Plus, Hole said, the combination converts Bond’s Buffalo office into a much larger location. “The talent that they have here, which we are going to add to our firm, we will be able to use across the state.”
Losing the Jaeckle Fleischmann name through the combination was “obviously a negative when we did the deal,” Kubarek said. “But we know our new partners. They’re steeped in tradition. We’re all going to work together to find a way to not just preserve the Jaeckle name but exploit it and trade and use its goodwill for the benefit of the combined firm.”
“It’s a venerable name and we’re going to honor it,” Hole said.
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