Levy and Droney: Changed Landscape, Perfect Fit Led Them To Close High-Profile Law firm

After a quarter-century with their names on one of the region's prominent law firms, two war horses with still-formidable power — Coleman B. Levy and John F. Droney — sat in a Hinckley Allen & Snyder conference room in downtown Hartford on the first business of the year, looking right at home at their new offices.

It may seem bittersweet, closing Levy & Droney and joining a New England regional firm with 150 lawyers along with a dozen of their colleagues. As of the start of 2013, their names aren't the ones on the shingle.

But Levy, who until recently was co-owner of the New Britain Rock Cats, and Droney, a former Democratic state chairman, said it's a happy melding that reflects changing times — for their firm and for the legal business.

Levy & Droney PC, of Farmington, had just 24 lawyers, far smaller than some midsize local firms that have dissolved in an era of consolidation. But over the years the firm had an outsized impact in greater Hartford as its two named principals merged their large personalities into a brand.

And unlike other firms that have gone by the wayside, the names on the door were still on the job until the end.

Levy & Droney had a diverse practice including corporate dealmaking, commercial real estate and personal services such as divorce, injury claims and estate planning. Unlike other small- to midsize firms that are struggling and must seek a merger for survival, their firm was doing well, Droney and Levy said.

"As our clients have matured and gotten larger, they've expanded their geographic footprint," Levy said.

Corporate clients would look for expertise in, say, tax law, retirement plans or environmental issues, Droney said, "and we've been referring out."

Now that won't happen. "Hinckley Allen has the bench strength," Levy said.

Levy and Droney both said there's no loss of identity as they move to 20 Church St., the "Stilts" building.

"Our identity is who we are as individuals and not Levy & Droney," Levy said. "We weren't defined by the firm. The firm to a great degree was defined by John and myself through our presence in the community."

Droney quipped that only his mother, may she rest in peace, would be upset that his name was off the door. But he added, "We had a brand that was well known."

The breakup of the firm also settled a succession question. What would have happened when Levy, 73, and Droney, 66, retired? Both said they have no plans to do so, but for most firms still partly or entirely controlled by their founders, that is a prickly question — all the more so because at Levy & Droney are both high-profile — no Mr. Inside in this pair.

"We came to a crossroads," said Ken Levine, who was head of the Levy & Droney litigation department and has joined Kroll, McNamara, Evans & Delehanty in West Hartford rather than move to Hinckley Allen & Snyder. "The younger generation was either going to take over the firm or it was time to look elsewhere."

Levine said he was in the group that wanted the firm to continue. He said the succession question was just one factor in the move, and that he harbors no hard feelings about the closing of the firm. He praised Droney and Levy for going through the process without pushing for their names to remain prominent.

Ultimately, 14 lawyers joined Hinckley Allen — nine of whom were partners, and remain partners — and ten did not, mostly those whose practices are in personal services rather than corporate law. It's not a merger, rather a sort of wholesale hiring and joining.

After every friendly business combination in recorded history, the principals sit together in a relaxed environment and declare it a match made in heaven. This one is no exception, and there are reasons to believe it might end up being true. Levy, Droney and Marc A. Crisafulli, the Hinckley Allen & Snyder managing partner, all said the cultures of the two firms are the same — a strong teamwork approach in contrast to powerful individual lawyers working in silos, and what Droney called a "roll up your sleeves" practice.

"We felt that it was a larger Levy & Droney," Levy said.

Even the fee structures were the same, they said — with hourly rates about two-thirds as much as the large national firms, for partners.

The merger happened after a few months of deliberation starting last summer. "We pursued them," Crisafulli said. "It's not like they were out talking to a bunch of firms and settled on us."

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