Downturn Not Motive for Merger, but Combining Will Cut Costs, Say Chicago Firms

The National Law Journal
Lynne Marek / Staff reporter
March 4, 2009

CHICAGO - Schuyler Roche, a Chicago law firm with 40 attorneys, will combine next month with the smaller Chicago litigation boutique Crisham & Kubes, the two firms said.

The combined firm, to be called Schuyler, Roche & Crisham, will have 50 attorneys, including 22 who are shareholders. Jim Komie, 46, who is currently the president of Schuyler Roche, and Michael B. Roche, who is currently chairman, will keep those posts at the merged firm. All of the attorneys currently at Crisham & Kubes will join the new firm, said founding partner Tom Crisham, 69.

The merger was initially proposed last summer by attorneys at Schuyler Roche interested in building up the firm's litigation services, Komie said. Crisham & Kubes entered the agreement in a bid to expand the breadth of its practice areas, Crisham said. The difficult financial environment didn't trigger the merger, but Komie and Crisham said they're pleased that combining the firms will allow them to spread reduced costs over a larger head count.

"Creating a larger client base certainly helps any firm weather storms," said Komie, who noted that discussions on the combination started before the downturn.

The merged firm will have just one office in downtown Chicago's Prudential Building, where Schuyler Roche is currently located and has space to absorb the 10 additional lawyers from Crisham & Kubes. Schuyler Roche currently provides litigation, labor and general corporate transaction services, counting employers and municipal entities among its clients. Crisham & Kubes works on insurance defense litigation and other commercial litigation.

"Both firms were thinking about growing, but didn't want to grow by becoming the Chicago office for someone from out of state," Crisham said. During the past five years, Chicago has become a magnet for large national firms looking to expand their domestic footprint. Some of the firms that have opened offices in the city by merging with smaller Chicago firms include K&L Gates, which swallowed Bell, Boyd & Lloyd and Reed Smith, which absorbed Sachnoff & Weaver. Similarly, a group of seven Schuyler Roche attorneys, led by the firm's former chairman, Richard Michaels, left last June to open a Chicago office for the 325-lawyer Indianapolis-based Baker & Daniels.

Schuyler Roche rejects some aspects of the big-firm model, such as paying first-year associates $160,000 annually, Komie said. The firm's rates are also likely more than 10% lower than those of larger firms, he said.

"Our goal is to stay small enough that the person you go to for the services actually provides the services or stays directly involved," Komie said. Another catalyst for the merger was Crisham & Kubes's office lease expiring this month and the firm's questioning whether to sign a new lease on an inefficient space for its use, Crisham said. Sharing Schuyler Roche's existing space with 10 more lawyers will lower costs for all, he said.

In another cost-saving move this month, Schuyler Roche plans to drop the lease it had on a suburban conference center where it held meetings with clients. The firm created the Evanston, Ill., facility after it closed its office in the suburb and now doesn't use the meeting center enough to keep it open, Komie said.

The firms were also brought together partly by Crisham and Roche, who have known each other and lived in the same neighborhood for years. Another connection between the firms was Bernard Castro, who is the executive director at Schuyler Roche and had previously held a similar role at Crisham & Kubes.

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