Mount Pleasant law firm to merge

Ben Hagood

One of the largest law practices in the region is beefing up its Charleston office as it rings in the new year.

A Mount Pleasant firm co-founded by former state Rep. Ben Hagood said it is merging with the larger Moore & Van Allen, marking the latest ownership change in the local legal profession.

The four shareholders of Hagood & Kerr PA will become partners with Charlotte-based Moore & Van Allen on Jan. 1. They are Hagood and longtime law partner Rob Kerr, as well as attorneys Beth Settle and Wendy Wilkie.

"Essentially for us, I think it was a very good fit for our practice areas, particularly our environmental law practice and our employment law practice," Hagood said.

He said his nine-lawyer firm was approached by Moore & Van Allen, which was looking to add local legal expertise in those two areas and supplement its other legal specialties, such as bankruptcy law and government relations.

A larger firm with more resources can provide a stronger "platform for developing those practices areas and for us being able to serve clients more completely," Hagood said.

Moore & Van Allen has about 30 lawyers in Charleston and about 300 firmwide representing a long list of mostly business clients. The Hagood & Kerr deal will increase employment at the Moore & Van Allen Calhoun Street office to about 75, including attorneys and support staff.

"It gives us some additional expertise or expertise that assimilates well with what our firm is already doing," said Moore & Van Allen partner Sam Applegate.

Like Applegate, Hagood is a former South Carolina lawmaker, having served in the House of Representatives from 2002 to 2008. He represented Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island.

Hagood said he and Kerr have been practicing law together for about 15 years and formed Hagood & Kerr in 2002. The firm will relocate from Coleman Boulevard to Moore & Van Allen's downtown offices at East Bay and Calhoun streets next month.

The merger is the latest deal this year involving big out-of-state firms that have reshaped the region's legal industry. Global heavyweight K&L Gates this month picked Charleston as the site of its first South Carolina office after recruiting seven partners from Parker Poe's downtown office.

In April, Buist Moore Smythe McGee merged with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, the largest legal practice based in North Carolina. Around the same time, the 170-lawyer Smith Moore Leatherwood opened a Church Street office with four local attorneys.

Reach John P. McDermott at 937-5572.