Center City-based Morgan Lewis, the largest law firm in the U.S. in terms of lawyers based domestically, is growing again, this time overseas.
The firm said Sunday it was combining with the Stamford Law Corp., an 80-lawyer firm based in Singapore, a booming commercial hub and island nation with a large footprint in shipping, manufacturing, and financial services.
The announcement follows by four months Morgan Lewis' acquisition of much of the Bingham McCutchen law firm of Boston, a transaction that vaulted Morgan into the top ranks of firms globally.
The 2,000-lawyer firm is now among the five largest in the world.
"Many of our multinational and U.S. clients are establishing their base of operations in Singapore, and Singapore has established itself as the international hub for Asia," said Jami Wintz McKeon, chair of Morgan Lewis.
The combined firm will be known as Morgan Lewis Stamford in Singapore and will offer a broad spectrum of legal services focusing on mergers and acquisitions, financial markets, energy, and international arbitration, among other areas.
Typically, offshore firms in Singapore are restricted to one or two practice areas and are subject to time-limited licenses, McKeon said. But she said the terms of the transaction would permit Morgan Lewis lawyers to advise clients over a much broader range of practice areas than is the case for an offshore firm.
The combination becomes effective April 1.
"From the practice perspective, we get immediate depth and strength," she said.
Much of the legal world took notice late last year when Morgan Lewis - defying a trend toward smaller law firm mergers after the legal market retrenchment in 2009 and 2010 - announced it was acquiring much of Bingham McCutchen. At its peak, Bingham McCutchen had 1,100 lawyers and a national practice and a presence overseas.
But the firm became overextended and its strained finances forced it into the arms of Morgan Lewis, which picked up about 500 lawyers and 250 additional staff in the transaction. While McKeon and other Morgan Lewis lawyers were handling the delicate and time-consuming negotiations with Bingham in the fall, they also were engaged in intense talks with Stamford Law Corp. leaders.
McKeon said the two firms had been introduced by a third party, and after a videoconference among McKeon, former Morgan chair Francis Milone, and Stamford managing partner Suet-Fern Lee, McKeon traveled to Singapore to continue the talks. There were enough parallels between the firms that the negotiations moved into high gear.
"Like a lot of things in life, it was a little bit serendipitous," McKeon said. "We really found in our first contact that we had a lot to talk about."
The Stamford firm has broad reach throughout Asia and a strong practice in India, according to McKeon. She said uncertainty about the political future of Hong Kong, itself an enormous commercial and financial-services hub, had focused an ever-brighter spotlight on Singapore and its legal market.
Singapore, a tiny city-state with 5.6 million people and a reputation as a tax haven at the tip of the Malay peninsula, has long been a destination for American businesses and their lawyers. Modern Singapore was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post for the British East India Co. and became a British colony a short time later, in 1824. The Stamford law firm takes its name in part from Singapore's founder.
Morgan Lewis, founded in Philadelphia in 1873, for much of its history had been centered in the Mid-Atlantic region, but in recent years, it has expanded across the U.S. and globally. Overseas, it has offices in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.