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Luce Forward leaves its mark on local community

The name may be gone now, but the spirit of Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps lives on, according to the attorneys who helped comprise the 139-year-old San Diego firm.

The merger between the law firms McKenna Long & Aldridge and Luce Forward was finalized Tuesday, with the combined firm continuing on as McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.

"I know people will see the passing of the Luce Forward name as some other symbol of something – and I identify with that – but a name is just a symbol," said Kurt Kicklighter, formerly Luce Forward's managing partner and now MLA's executive partner for California. "The people are still here, and what we do for our community, and the people we serve, is going to be enhanced."

Moses Luce founded Luce Forward in 1873, and it went on to become the oldest running law firm in San Diego. The firm built its reputation around the integrity of its attorneys and the close-knit client relationships they developed.

Luce Forward was a force in local legal community, employing some of the top legal talent in San Diego. Many of its attorneys went on to federal judgeships and other leadership positions.

The firm expanded to offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and, in recent years, it gained notoriety for its extensive real estate practice.

"I think if Moses Luce was looking at us today and saw what we're doing and why we're doing it -- and the benefits to San Diego -- he'd see it as fitting tribute," Kicklighter said.

The firm left its mark in several ways.

Luce Forward represented the city of San Diego in litigation involving the Petco Park bonds and it helped bring water from the Colorado River to San Diego, Kicklighter said, noting the firm's most notable recent achievements.

"I think Luce Forward has epitomized San Diego, in many ways," said Nancy Scull, a veteran real estate partner who began her career at Luce Forward. "I believe there is a trust, integrity and commitment to the community that Luce has always evidenced every single day.

"I really am committed to letting people know that McKenna Long & Aldridge equals the same quality characteristics of Luce Forward."

Most major law firms in San Diego employ at least one former Luce Forward attorney, a fact that the current partners highlight as another example of the firm's quality work product.

"We have a lot of alumni out in the community who are tremendous attorneys," said partner Bob Bell. "One of the reasons we're merging is so we can continue with a bigger platform so our attorneys can grow, and we can attract the great people that we've attracted in the past.

"We're matching up with another firm that has the same sort of standards and integrity that we have. That's why we're excited about it. It's a good fit."

The combined firm will boast more than 575 attorneys and public policy advisers in 13 offices across 11 markets.

MLA now is expected to have one of the 20 largest law firms in California, with the firm’s real estate practice ranking among the top three largest practices on the West Coast.

Luce Forward had been seeking a merger partner for several years as the needs of its attorneys grew larger in scope. The firm's progression has mirrored that of its host city, Kicklighter said.

"San Diego has become more cosmopolitan, with companies that are on the cutting edge of technology, finance and health care," he said. "And these companies are not just local, San Diego companies. They do business worldwide.

"We've grown with San Diego, and the practice of the lawyers we have – not all, but many – were tending to represent companies that have legal needs all over the country and all over the world."

Kicklighter said Luce clients will be able to take advantage of MLA's practice of representing companies that do business with the government. The firm also has a wealth of government relations expertise.

With the merger, McKenna Long & Aldridge now has expanded capabilities in real estate, litigation, corporate, family wealth, environmental, and employment practices. In addition, the firm solidified its insurance practice in the United States, as it represents some of the largest insurance carriers on the West and East coasts.

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