Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, the top bond counsel firm, is in merger talks with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. The move could stretch Orrick's lead in the public finance practice even further.

Based in San Francisco, Pillsbury's 12-person public finance team has advised clients as underwriter and disclosure counsel on utilities, energy services and affordable housing transactions. The team also advises in bond litigation and workout services. Orrick boasts 75 lawyers in the public finance area, according to its website, and ranked first in bond counsel in 2012, advising on $30.8 billion in par of deals.

"Our firms are in exploratory discussions about a possible combination," a Pillsbury spokesperson told The Bond Buyer, in a statement affirmed by Orrick. "These talks are serving to confirm the great respect our firms have for each other." The possibility of a merger was first reported by Reuters.

Pillsbury was responsible for $561 in gross revenue in 2012, according to The American Lawyer. The firm is comprised of 667 attorneys, Pillsbury said an email. Orrick took in $866 million, according to the same list.

The public finance team at Pillsbury is led by Gregory Weston, who has represented bond issuers, underwriters and not-for-profits in both taxable and tax-exempt infrastructure, housing and higher education deals, according to the firm's website.

Including tax lawyers that specialize in public finance, the public finance group at Orrick has almost 100 lawyers. The firm opened its first office in post-Gold Rush San Francisco 150 years ago and has been involved in public finance for more than 100 years.

The growing number of law firms practicing public finance has been a major change in the past few decades, Roger Davis, head of public finance, told The Bond Buyer in August. There are at least half a dozen firms with substantial public finance practices, compared with just two when Davis began at Orrick, he said.

Orrick has ranked as the top municipal bond counsel in the nation since 2001, according to Thomson Reuters data. In California, Orrick has ranked No. 1 every year since 1986, when the earliest data is available.

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