Miles, Saiontz firms to merge

Savings on pooled ads could help fund multistate expansion

Legal affairs

June 22, 1999|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

The Yellow Pages is about to lose a full-page legal ad. Insurance company lawyers will have to reprogram their speed dials. And at least one well-known Baltimore advertising slogan is sure to become history.

Stephen L. Miles and Saiontz & Kirk, two Baltimore-based law practices that spend millions on advertising to attract personal injury and other cases, will join forces sometime between Thursday and Monday, said Donald Saiontz, a partner at Saiontz & Kirk.

"The rationale is that in today's legal environment, you're better off if you can consolidate expenses and provide additional services," said Saiontz, who is waiting for the legal work on the deal to be completed.

Miles could not be reached for comment yesterday. Calls to his office were not returned.

The merger will combine two firms that have spent millions on television and phone book advertising to gain local celebrity status.

Saiontz & Kirk, which has 10 lawyers and 65 other employees, launched an "injury hot line" with the slogan: "If you have a phone, you have a lawyer."

Stephen L. Miles, which has seven lawyers and more than 30 other employees, has beckoned to clients in car accidents, malpractice, bankruptcy and birth defect cases with a warm but business-like proposal: "Let's talk about it."

The combination is a new twist on a wave of law firm mergers that has affected blue-chip business firms such as Baltimore's Piper & Marbury LLP, which plans to merge with Chicago-based Rudnick & Wolfe.

The formation of Saiontz, Kirk & Miles will not result in any job cuts, Saiontz said.

"We expect to be much bigger in another two years," he said. "We're expanding."

Dan Clements, past president of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association, identified one obvious source of savings: the new firm's advertising budget. "They can combine their advertising and still cover the same basic group of clients," he said.

Clements also said that, in general, life has become more difficult for "high-volume, lower-dollar attorneys. Insurance companies are stonewalling on small cases, and juries are much less sympathetic because of anti-tort rhetoric."

Paul Tiburzi, a partner at Piper & Marbury who serves as counsel to the Maryland Tort Reform Coalition, said he did not know what to make of the merger, but noted a general trend of growth among plaintiff firms.

"You need to be bigger and bigger to take on mass tort cases like tobacco and gun litigation," he said.

According to industry projections, each firm has spent in the neighborhood of $1 million in some years. Saiontz, who said his firm is the largest legal advertiser in the country, expects "significant savings" in advertising expenses.

Saiontz said business at his firm has been strong, partly because of its willingness to file lawsuits more quickly in the face of low settlement offers.

Several years ago, lawyers would file suit in one of 10 personal-injury cases. "Now it's about five out of 10," he said.

By combining, the firms will improve their reach, Saiontz said. While Miles has focused mostly in the Baltimore region, Saiontz & Kirk has spread its practice to Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington.

"We're about to reopen offices in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore," he said. "We're also going to open our first office in Pennsylvania."

The combined firm will unite practices that both took to the airwaves in the early 1980s. "He didn't know I was going on the air, and I didn't know he was going on the air," Saiontz said.

Saiontz would not say whether the two firms would merge their two catch phrases -- an arrangement that could produce: "If you have a telephone let's talk about it."

He said only that new ads were in the works. Disclosing the contents "would be like giving the punch line before the joke," Saiontz said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.