Charlotte law firm says merger effective July 1

One of the Carolinas' largest law firms is merging with an international firm in an effort to better serve clients in an increasingly competitive legal market, partners announced Monday.

Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman, a Charlotte-based firm with 175 lawyers in North and South Carolina, is combining with the Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis effective July 1.

The firms announced a possible merger last month. Since then, partners from both firms have voted unanimously to finalize the talks, said Gene Pridgen, Kennedy Covington's managing partner.

“There has been intense competition in the marketplace, and our clients' business has become more and more globalized,” he said Monday. “The ‘why now?' is simply a question of looking at the trends.”

The combined firm, which will keep the K&L Gates name, will have more than 1,700 lawyers in 28 offices across the U.S., Europe and Asia. It will maintain Kennedy Covington's existing offices in Charlotte, Raleigh, Research Triangle Park and Rock Hill, S.C., establishing the largest Carolinas presence of any global law firm, Pridgen said.

The merger is the latest sign of Charlotte's changing legal landscape. National firms have flocked here in recent years for the city's banks and businesses, fueling competition that, along with the slowing economy, has sparked talk of mergers around town.

Charlotte-based Helms Mullis & Wicker – which considered a merger with Kennedy Covington a few years ago – merged with Richmond, Va.-based McGuireWoods in March.

Kennedy Covington, which opened in Charlotte in 1957, began considering a merger about a year ago, Pridgen said.

“It's not something we take lightly,” he said. “But I think it's essential for our growth.”