Two of Virginia’s oldest law firms, Woods Rogers and Vandeventer Black, announced April 21 that they will merge later this year.
The new firm — to be known as Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black — will be home to more than 130 attorneys around the commonwealth. When the merger goes into effect July 1, it will become Virginia’s fifth-largest law firm.
The two firms have history dating back to the 1800s. Vandeventer Black was founded in 1883. A decade later, Woods Rogers opened its doors in 1893.
Daniel Summerlin, president of Woods Rogers, said the merger has been two years in the making.
“When we started getting together and talking, we quickly learned that we shared a lot of common traits in terms of the practice, client service, community involvement and commitment to the bar, which is probably unparalleled at this point when you put the two firms together,” he said.
Vandeventer Black Managing Partner Michael L. Sterling said the firm had desired to expand to the western part of the state in order to provide a greater variety of services throughout the state.
“I always gave a lot of thought to how nice it would be to have partners in the western part of the state who can be part of the team to provide and expand our services,” Sterling said. “As I went to visit my son at Virginia Tech, I kept thinking more about this.”
The firms, who lease office space in Richmond from the same building, connected and began discussions.
“We got the boards involved, we got practice group leaders involved and really spent a lot of time making sure the people had common goals and cultural similarity so that we can work well together,” Sterling said. “I’m very proud to come to this day and very excited about this opportunity.”
Once the merger goes into effect, Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black will have an official headquarters in Roanoke, with offices in Norfolk, Richmond, Lynchburg and Charlottesville.
Outside of Virginia, the firm will have locations in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and Hamburg, Germany. Firm attorneys are admitted in more than 20 states and routinely practice in federal courts throughout the country.
“We have matters as far away as Alaska, so it is great to have more lawyers with that access to reach across the country,” Vandeventer Black Executive Board Member Deborah Casey said.
Casey said clients will not notice any administrative changes at first, as attorneys will maintain the same emails and phone numbers as before.
“Initially, there won’t be anything that will be different for the two firms other than the name,” she noted. “But I think ultimately what it will do for clients is provide a broader base of services and a deeper bench so that we can service them better.”
Additionally, Sterling said the merger will allow the firm to take advantage of technological advancements in the legal field.
“The law has evolved over the years and technical tools are terribly important,” Sterling said. “A larger firm allows us to invest more deeply in those to give a better experience to our clients.”
Summerlin will remain president of the combined firm, while Woods Rogers Board of Directors Chair Victor Cardwell will continue as chair. Casey will become the firm’s vice-chair, with Woods Rogers Chief Financial Officer Autumn Visser and Vandeventer Black Executive Director Paul Julius continuing in their respective roles at Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black.
Cardwell, current president of the Virginia Bar Association, took office this year following the term of Vandeventer Black’s Richard Ottinger. With the merger, it is believed Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black is the first firm to have consecutive VBA presidents in the association’s 134-year history, a distinction Cardwell described as “cool” and “awesome.”
“When Richard Ottinger passed the gavel to me, we were at least in talks, and I had a hope that this day would come,” Cardwell said.
He added that, prior to the merger, both firms valued commitments to the profession and to groups like the VBA, which he said helped with the firms’ cultural fit.
“We really do care about how our professionals conduct themselves and how the bar as a whole operates,” Cardwell said. “That is why we both independently and now jointly have always believed that our support and service to the profession, through the VBA among other entities, is just indicative of the types of people that we’re dealing with.”
Ultimately, fellow attorneys and clients should look to Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black as a “destination,” Cardwell said.
“The Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black firm is a destination — it is a place for lawyers who want to practice differently,” he said. “We’re ready to help more young lawyers get into the profession and enjoy it.”i