Resetting the bar
Law firms consider mergers to meet staffing demands
Two venerable Virginia law firms — Roanoke’s Woods Rogers PLC and Norfolk’s Vandeventer Black LLP — combined forces in July 2022, creating the state’s fifth largest firm, Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black PLC, based in Roanoke.
It’s a true statewide firm, with branch offices in Norfolk, Richmond, Lynchburg and Charlottesville, in addition to locations in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and Hamburg, Germany.
“We think it’s a historic merger that is going to create a powerhouse Virginia law firm,” President Daniel Summerlin said in April 2022, when the firms announced the merger. “Woods Rogers and Vandeventer Black … have been around for 120-some years. When we got together and started talking to each other, we found we shared a lot of commonality in terms of practice of law, client services [and] the commitment to the bar, as well as a commitment to our communities in which we’ve been for such a long time.”
The firm has 130 attorneys among its total workforce of 250 people. Amid a nationwide lawyer shortage, many law firms are considering mergers.
In 2022, Virginia’s firms were reporting fierce competition to hire more lawyers, as many positions were lost through attrition during the height of the pandemic. Canceled summer internships also closed one avenue for hiring young associates, and Virginia’s law school application rate dropped by 12.2% between 2021 and 2022. As courthouses reopened, there was even more legal work than ever, leaving remaining attorneys stretched thin.
That led to much higher salaries, signing bonuses and other perks — especially flexibility in the workday and workplace.
“The question people are asking themselves post-COVID is, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’” says Rudene Mercer Haynes, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP’s hiring partner. “A lot of people have reassessed.”
Many firms turned to hybrid work schedules because of employees’ desires for flexibility, while acknowledging that many lawyers enter the field to be around other people. Flexibility is a big selling point, Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black Chairman Victor O. Cardwell noted in a September 2022 story in Virginia Business — and not just for millennials. The old days of 100-hour weeks have gone out of favor for all generations, attorneys say.
“Lawyers in their 30s and 40s are asking themselves, ‘Do I really want to be like the boomers?’ The answer is a resounding ‘No,’” IslerDare PC partner Steven D. Brown said in a May 2022 story. “And boomers and Generation X-ers are asking themselves whether their own health is more important than the law firm.”
In November 2022, legal recruiter Karen Vladeck of Whistler Partners wrote in Bloomberg Law that the days of $100,000 signing bonuses for second-year associates appear to be done now, but there are some specialties that are still understaffed, including labor and employment.
Elizabeth M. Ebanks, who specializes in labor and employment law at Richmond’s Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC, said last fall that lawyers in her field “were at the forefront of every question from 2020 through today — from advising on hiring and retaining talent during the Great Resignation, requests to ‘work from anywhere’ (think Paris), vaccine mandate issues and broadening the scope of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
In other legal news, McLean-based cloud computing company Appian Corp. won a $2.03 billion award — estimated to be the largest award in Virginia state court history — in a May 2022 trade secrets jury verdict against Pegasystems Inc., a Massachusetts-based competitor that brands itself as Pega. In September 2022, the judge entered a final judgment, which Pegasystems appealed in February, and in November the two rivals settled a separate lawsuit Pegasystems filed in 2019 alleging false advertising by Appian.
Click here to purchase the complete list.