Yesterday, Spencer Fane announced a new combination to be effective March 1, 2024 in Utah. We at Compass Law Group are proud to have worked on this combination between Spencer Fane and Snow Christensen & Martineau, which gives Spencer Fane two offices in Utah, and the addition of about 50 attorneys. Along with the recent combination in California, Spencer Fane continues to establish and grow a presence in the western United States.
“As we thoughtfully explored this combination, we found ourselves repeatedly returning to the conclusion that our two firms are a match on the measures that matter most, ranging from our approach to serving clients to our shared interest in talent development,” D. Jason Hawkins, President of Snow Christensen said, in the firm announcement on Dec 6th. “As an example, Snow Christensen has long recognized the ‘importance of our work while striving to not allow ourselves to fall into a trap of being self-important,’ and we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find a national firm in Spencer Fane that strives to adhere to the same values.”
"[This combination] continues to demonstrate our commitment to serve industry and business and clients throughout the Mountain West, Southwest and West," Pat Whalen, Chair and CEO of Spencer Fane, said in an article for the American Lawyer. "With these two offices [in Salt Lake and St. George], with the two we opened in California last month, with our fast growth in Colorado and Phoenix, we think that presence and that depth and breadth throughout the western part of the U.S. will continue to differentiate us."
Whalen also said some about the strategic business fit that has characterized the firm's recent growth. “We do not have a business plan or profit formula that requires the four-figure rates that some of the other firms entering that market are probably expecting. That’s what the talent has told us in the market,” he said. “They certainly see the benefits of an Am Law firm in the market, there’s no doubt about that, but the majority of lawyers in the market don’t believe they can sell those rates to their Utah clients. And that’s why our model is particularly attractive. You get the resources without the higher-level rates that some firms in that market demand.”
Sonny Howard, who helped quarterback the deal from the Compass side, agrees. "The real value proposition I see in Salt Lake is getting access to the tools and resources of a big platform without having to charge Am Law 20 rates," he said. "When lawyers see how they can benefit without losing the autonomy needed to continue to serve their clients, I think it's extremely compelling."
We have seen this pattern in many secondary legal markets — an Am Law firm comes in with a splash, overpays partners to get them to join, then has them work exclusively on non-local clients. It's a strategy — a talent play, certainly, because many lawyers want to live in Salt Lake City, or Nashville, or Austin. But what happens to those offices in 1-3yrs? Some thrive, of course. But, sometimes, the risk doesn't pay off, and they dwindle to insignificance or close down completely. This has been the opposite of Spencer Fane's strategy. The offices we have helped Spencer Fane open (of which this is the largest) have tended to start small but to (remarkably) retain attorneys and then to grow over time.
Hayden Flowers, managing partner of Compass Law Group's Houston office, said that he thought the merger was certainly a win-win. "I don't get many deals done without them being mutually beneficial," he said. "One plus one always has to equal five or six, and in this case it certainly does. Snow's 130 year history and reputation in Salt Lake combined with Spencer Fane's national platform is a formula for continued growth. I will be surprised if by the end of March the SLC office isn't working on several cases that originated outside of Utah, and if Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, and the California offices aren't all working on cases from the SLC office."
Compass Law Group specializes in strategic growth — recruiting, legacy planning, law firm mergers & acquisitions, and entering new markets. If your firm is interested in growing an existing office or making a splash in a new legal market, please reach out to us for a free and confidential conversation.