In Conversation: Five Years On, Larry Gesner and Chris Borello Assess the Impact of the Venable-Fitzpatrick Combination

6 min

In November 2018, Venable combined with Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, a leading intellectual property (IP) firm. The addition of Fitzpatrick brought in nearly 100 lawyers and 70 staff members, doubled the size of Venable’s New York office, and prompted a move to expansive new premises at 151 W. 42nd Street. Five years later, Larry Gesner and Chris Borello look back over some of the key considerations that made the combination a success.

What was the initial spark that got this combination under way?

Chris: A year or two before the combination, Fitzpatrick retained consultants to plan its future amid industry changes. We had been seeing a subset of our clients moving toward using a smaller number of firms with a wider variety of practice areas. So, we were trying to figure out whether it would be better for our attorneys and our clients to remain a boutique IP firm or to have a broader platform within a general practice firm. That led to an initial conversation with Jim Shea, who was the chairperson of Venable at the time, and then further discussions with Stu Ingis and other Venable partners, who looked at the type of work we do, our client list, and our billing rates to assess whether a combination made sense.

Larry: We've always had a view that we should grow in New York, but we weren’t looking to reach a certain number by a certain date. Any growth had to align with our values and culture, so we wanted to make sure the people we combined with would be compatible with the firm—from a personality standpoint as much as from a practice area and financial standpoint. At the time, our IP group was the smallest of our four divisions, but it was strong in terms of its substance, experience, and range of clients. So, bringing in Fitzpatrick, a highly respected IP firm, was an attractive prospect. But more importantly, as the discussions progressed, it became apparent that combining the firms’ strengths aligned with Venable’s values and long-term goals.

Once the decision was made to go ahead with the combination, how did you sell the idea to the partnership and to clients?

Chris: As we embarked on this combination, one of the most critical issues for us at Fitzpatrick was that we would have substantial leadership roles. Having individuals from both Venable and Fitzpatrick serve as firm counsel members, office heads, division heads, and practice group leaders played a significant role in our successful integration. Moreover, as a boutique IP firm, Fitzpatrick had a unique culture and place in the market. So, we insisted on preserving our brand for a set period—initially two years, and later extended for another two. Continuing to promote our Fitzpatrick IP brand allowed our clients to come to associate that brand with Venable. 

Larry: Our approach was consistent with previous combinations, such as with Tucker Flyer in 1999 and our recent expansion in Florida. We always aim for seamless transitions where ideally everyone from the joining firm would be part of the team. This philosophy held up with the Fitzpatrick group, where close-knit teams had worked together for years and almost everyone joined us immediately. The fact that Fitzpatrick hadn’t added any lateral partners for about a decade before the combination was particularly appealing to us.

Once the combination was a go, did it go as planned, or did unexpected opportunities or challenges arise?

Larry: We were very fortunate in that the two offices were directly across the street from each other, which played a significant role in ensuring a smooth combination. It also helped that Chris, Matt McLaughlin, and Ed O’Toole had the great idea of mixing people from the two offices rather than having everyone remain in their respective spaces. That approach allowed everyone to interact naturally, fostering better connections and more opportunities.

Chris: The proximity certainly helped. The common goal shared by the two firms was to avoid a simple 1 + 1 = 2 scenario; instead, we aimed for 1 + 1 to equal more than 2, recognizing that such synergies take time to develop organically. The best results emerge when a client’s needs align with one or more of our team’s capabilities, allowing for cross-selling to occur, so it’s vital that our teams become acquainted with each other. These synergies developed more slowly during the pandemic; however, we are starting to see them more and more. As we continue to integrate and get to know each other better in the new office space, I believe we’ll discover even more synergies in the future.

Larry: We've witnessed an increase in collaborative efforts each year, and I believe this trend will continue. As time passes and people spend more time together, the distinction between legacy clients will blur, leading to a more organic and natural alignment among team members.

Overall, the combination has clearly been a success, but were there some losses along the way—clients or partners who didn’t get on board?

Larry: We lost only a couple of individuals, but the vast majority stayed, and we even had some people join the firm after the combination who had been with Fitzpatrick previously. The experience really taught us that maintaining core teams is one of the most important things to consider when embarking on future combinations. You rarely hear that a combination failed because a client or two was lost. It usually comes down to a lack of compatibility among the people.

Having recently moved to new premises at 151 W. 42nd Street, Venable is commanding a much larger presence in the city than it did before the combination. How has the expansion in New York impacted the firm more broadly?

Chris: We often think of the New York office as having a gravitational pull. Its larger size increased that and is attracting new talent across many practice areas, but particularly in those that touch on life sciences.  That is true even outside of New York, such as the recent growth in our FDA practice. But what will really help us going forward is that the success of this combination has demonstrated our ability to successfully bring other large groups through the door. Our recent addition of more than 50 lawyers and professional staff in Florida is a testament to that.

Finally, now that we’re past the pandemic hurdle and Venable is in its new home in New York, where do you hope things go from here?

Larry: It’s crucial for any organization to continue to grow and to enhance opportunities for everyone. But our growth plans aren’t tied to specific numbers and timelines, and profit isn’t our sole motivation. Jim Shea emphasized the idea that people will self-select if the firm is the right fit for them. So, while we have goals, our priority is the well-being of our partners and colleagues and on helping ensure that we create and maintain an environment that allows everyone to flourish.

Learn more about Chris Borello’s and Larry Gesner’s practices.