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One of the largest labor and employment law firms in the country now has a presence in Memphis thanks to a homegrown firm with ties to the Bluff City that goes back 20 years. Effective Sunday, the Memphis firm of Lewis Fisher Henderson & Claxton LLP will join with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC, the nation's third-largest labor and employment law firm.

Frederick J. Lewis, a founding partner of Lewis Fisher, said he feels the joining of the two firms will add tremendous opportunities for Lewis Fisher as well as the Memphis business community. "I think (the combination will help Memphis companies) in the same way we see our firm as benefiting - it gives the resource of having a firm with 365 lawyers and 30 different offices across the country," Lewis said. "We serve clients across the country, but this obviously increases our ability to do that. It gives us depth.

"As far as the Memphis market, it gives clients in Memphis an opportunity to call on the resources of a nationwide firm when they have a case that calls for that."

Southern presence

The attorneys of Lewis Fisher will have the benefit of Ogletree Deakins' reputation that comes from representing more than half of the Fortune 50 companies in the United States, entities such as Home Depot, Dillard's, Nissan, Dollar General and Dell Corp.

Twelve attorneys from Lewis Fisher's Memphis office and seven from its Jackson, Miss., office will make up the first Ogletree Deakins offices in each city. Lewis, Thomas L. Henderson, Whitney King Fogerty, Charles V. Holmes, O. John Norris III and Craig A. Cowart will open the Memphis office as shareholders of Ogletree Deakins. Donna K. Fisher, a founding partner of Lewis Fisher, will join in an of counsel position.

Lewis Fisher, which began operating in 1998 in its current form, already had two attorneys operating out of an office in Los Angeles, so those attorneys will move into the L.A. office of Ogletree Deakins.

The Memphis office will become Ogletree Deakins' second office in Tennessee. The firm opened an office in Nashville in 1986.

Firm shareholder Kevin Frazier, who works out of Ogletree Deakins' Nashville office, said the firm was interested in Lewis Fisher for a number of reasons.

"The first attraction was the quality of the lawyers. When we are looking at cities, that is the first thing we look for," said Frazier, who is on the executive committee of Ogletree Deakins.

The marriage of the two firms also gives Ogletree Deakins a presence in a region that it would otherwise not have had access to before. Offices in Memphis and Jackson, Miss., offer exactly that for Ogletree Deakins, Frazier said.

"I have known Tom (Henderson) and Fred (Lewis) for probably 10 years, and have always been interested in doing something with them, and the opportunity just presented itself," Frazier said.

Only a matter of time

For Ogletree Deakins, combining with Lewis Fisher was part of the firm's overall strategy to address some of the current trends in the area of labor and employment law, Frazier added.

While Lewis Fisher attorneys had crossed paths with attorneys at Ogletree Deakins for years on various cases, Lewis said it was not until recently that the two firms began to talk about combining their resources.

Lewis and Henderson, who is a partner at Lewis Fisher, were in Nashville working on a case that also involved some Ogletree Deakins attorneys. They went to lunch one day after court and discussed the possibility of working together.

"We obviously had a productive lunch," Lewis said of that February meeting. "It has been a quick courtship."

One of the main reasons Lewis said his firm was interested in working with a firm as large as Ogletree Deakins was the trend in labor and employment law for cases to be filed as class actions. That trend opens companies such as the ones Ogletree Deakins represents to more liability than before.

Another trend in labor and employment that makes the combination of firms work well is that major corporations have begun to severely restrict the number of law firms they use, meaning companies that might have at one time used 20 law firms around the country, might only use two or three firms now.

"What that does for Lewis Fisher and their client base is it gives them an opportunity to say, 'We can do your work at 30 different locations with quality lawyers we know at one firm,'" Frazier said.

Ogletree Deakins already has begun to see the benefits since news of the combination became public earlier this month. The firm has picked up three lawsuits through Ogletree Deakins contacts in Memphis that it would not have been able to get without the office here, Frazier said.

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