ATLANTA - McGuireWoods LLP and Helms Mulliss & Wicker announced this week that they are merging to become one of the largest bond counsel firms in the Southeast.

The merged firm, to be known as McGuireWoods LLP, will have almost 900 lawyers and offices in 17 cities in the U.S., as well as in Europe and Central Asia. The merger becomes effective on March 31.

Richard Cullen, chairman of McGuireWoods, said the merger was a natural fit considering the common experiences and traditions of the two firms.

"Helms Mulliss and McGuireWoods are fortunate to have many successful clients whose legal needs are expanding and becoming more complex as their business grows, and we need to match our capabilities and geographic reach to meet those needs," Cullen said. "With our common traditions of excellence, our shared focus on serving clients, and our complementary expertise in capital markets, business litigation and corporate law, we believe this combination is a natural fit that will benefit clients of both firms."

The two firms largely have served clients in North Carolina and South Carolina, but they've also worked on deals throughout the country.

Peter J. Covington, chairman and managing member of Helms Mulliss, will become vice chairman of McGuireWoods, a newly created position.

Scott Vaughn, currently the practice area leader for Helms Mulliss Wicker's finance group, will become managing partner of McGuireWoods' Charlotte office.

"Helms Mulliss has had a long and proud history serving clients in North Carolina, and we're excited about the opportunity to provide an even higher level of service to our clients by joining forces with McGuireWoods," Covington said in the release. "Charlotte's emergence as the nation's second largest financial center and the growing importance of technology and the life sciences in North Carolina are driving demand for the sophisticated tax, banking, business and regulatory services that our combined firm will be able to provide."

McGuireWoods currently has 750 lawyers working out of 15 locations worldwide, including Charlotte. Helms Mulliss has 145 lawyers that work out of Charlotte, as well as Raleigh and Wilmington.

The number of deals they've worked on total more than $5 billion since 2000, according to Thomson Financial. McGuireWoods accounted for most of that. Since the beginning of the year, the firm has done about $190 million of deals, while Helms Mulliss has done about $66 million worth, according to Thomson.

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