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New playing field

Merger helps McAfee & Taft create competitive national platform

published in The Journal Record | October 6, 2011

 

 
 
Mary Quinn Cooper and Bill Leach in her office.
Photo by Kirby Lee Davis

By Kirby Lee Davis

Mary Quinn Cooper really wasn’t interested when McAfee & Taft Managing Director Richard Nix first proposed a merger.

Flattered, but not interested.

“We had what we thought was a good deal at the time,” said Bill Leach, who with Quinn Cooper co-founded Tulsa’s boutique firm Eldridge Cooper Steichen & Leach in 2002. “We thought we were just being polite by responding to their inquiries.”

Eldridge Cooper had already established a national reputation by focusing on litigation, growing from seven to 15 attorneys and a 12-member support staff while representing General Motors, Ford, and others in courts both inside and outside the Sooner State. The 2008 recession that crippled many such specialty shops barely fazed their profitable one, which Leach pinned on their small size and trim operations.

“We really flourished,” said Quinn Cooper.

But then the duo heard Nix discuss his concepts for creating a more efficient and effective full-service law firm, consolidating operations while providing more complete client care. Through that, Quinn Cooper and Leach saw a way to better serve their clients’ nonlitigation needs while attracting additional revenue to a merged law firm.

Even more, Leach said it establishes McAfee & Taft as a national full-service competitor.

“This lets us give that client an opportunity to go with an Oklahoma firm rather than go with a Texas firm or a Los Angeles firm,” he said. “That we saw happen all the time. Now we can compete with anybody in the country.”

That matched Nix’s goal.

“Our clients are having to compete regionally, nationally and internationally,” he said. “As a result, their service providers have to be able to do the same. It’s imperative that we not only maintain the expertise to handle their local matters, but as they deal regionally, nationally, we need to be in a position to handle those matters as well.”

After a year’s discussion that Nix said verified their cohesive corporate cultures, the two firms completed the weekend transition that raised McAfee & Taft to 80-plus litigators in various fields and 183 attorneys overall. Quinn Cooper entered her new office with the phone working, the computer network online, her furniture in place and her photographs propped up. Even her automotive knickknacks were properly aligned.

“We were billing time and working with clients the day we moved in,” she said, marveling at the transition to their new Mapco Plaza offices. “They were so well-organized.”

Nix credited that to building owners Sally and John Neas, who expedited their moving needs. But the complex effort also demonstrated the level of efficiency McAfee & Taft targets for impressing Oklahoma business executives.

“We’re fortunate and blessed to be in Oklahoma,” he said. “We have some of the best business minds anywhere that are leading companies in this downturn. A number of companies are taking advantage of opportunities out there as other companies maybe are more conservative.”

Nix said the legal needs facing such opportunistic Oklahoma firms open doors for McAfee & Taft – which points to why he sought out Quinn Cooper and Leach.

“They expect more for their legal partners and we need to be on the cutting edge to provide for their needs as they arise,” Nix said of their client base. “Hiring the best lawyers and the best talent are the best ways to do that. Eldridge Cooper meets that definition.”

With 38 attorneys now in the three-year-old Tulsa office, Nix said the merger also met McAfee & Taft’s original five-year goal of accumulating a critical mass of 30 to 50 attorneys. While the firm will remain in its merger and acquisition mode, Nix said the guiding force will now be meeting client needs instead of creating office synergies.

“Mary and Bill and the whole team at Eldridge Cooper provided a dynamic in the litigation field that was really second to none,” he said of the merger, noting the 15 acquired attorneys average billings at the same level of McAfee & Taft.

“It allows us to bring even more in the big-case commercial litigation class-action arena,” Nix continued. “It’s an area that we were excited to expand, not only here in Tulsa, not only in Oklahoma, but they have the regional and international presence as well. To that end it certainly met our strategic goal.”

Having built a successful firm with their own hands, Quinn Cooper considered the merger something of a bittersweet victory.

“We hated losing some of that control and yet we were so thrilled to lose that control,” she said. “Primarily, Bill and I want to litigate lawsuits.”

That transition allows them to do that while helping more young attorneys gain needed courtroom experience. Leach said it also allows them to prove the strength of Oklahoma law firms, which he found particularly satisfying.

“There have been many occasions where very large firms coming from other parts of the country would look down at their Oklahoma client,” he said. “They would be treated as a second-class citizen. With this merger there’s no reason for any Oklahoma entity to go anywhere but Oklahoma to get their legal counsel.”

 
Kirby Lee Davis is the Tulsa Bureau Chief for The Journal Record.

 
This article appeared in the October 6, 2011, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher. 
© The Journal Record Publishing Co.