According to this year's Am Law 100 report, Washington-based firms fared much better than many of the nation’s largest firms did in 2009. Nationwide, Am Law 100 firms saw gross revenue fall 3.4% last year. But in Washington, gross revenue slipped just 1.8%.
The results of The American Lawyer's annual analysis of the nation's highest grossing law firms reflect the toll that the steepest economic decline in decades took on the legal industry. That said, as American Lawyer editor-in-chief Aric Press points out, it could have been worse.
The 11 Washington-based firms on the list were largely expected to have a better year than most major legal markets given the emphasis many of those firms place on litigation and regulatory practices, which tend to be recession resistant.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr retained its perch atop the list in terms of gross revenue, bringing in $941 million in 2009. Wilmer’s revenue last year was down 1.5% from the $955 million reported in 2008. Wilmer’s revenue per lawyer also dropped 1.5%, going from $1.03 million to $1.01 million in 2009. Wilmer’s profits per equity partner climbed 6.9%, jumping from $1.08 million to $1.16 million.
Wilmer’s co-managing partner William Perlstein said today the firm’s dip in revenue came as a result of reduced work in the transactional practices. He has attributed the increased PPP to "at least a dozen" partners leaving the firm to join the Obama administration and steady workflow in the intellectual property litigation, securities enforcement, antitrust, and regulatory practices. "Last year was a good year because we had plenty of work in some of our key practice areas, and we were able to focus on costs and keeping our headcount where it needed to be," Perlstein said.
Nationally, revenue per lawyer among the Am Law 100 fell for the second straight year to $802,381. Despite decreased earnings, Am Law 100 firms managed to pull out a 0.3% increase in profits per partner, going to $1.26 million. That increase came as a result of expense cutting and fewer equity partners.
In Washington, RPL fell 3.4% and PPP slipped just 1.1%.
Crowell & Moring posted the biggest uptick in revenue in 2009 among Washington-based firms, jumping 14.5% to $339 million. Crowell’s increased its revenue per lawyer by 9.5%, going from $740,000 in 2008 to $810,000 in 2009. Crowell chairman Kent Gardiner has previously attributed the increased revenue to the firm’s aggressive hire of lateral partners and strong performances by the litigation and government contracts practices. Gardiner could not be reached for additional comment.
Williams & Connolly, which made its first appearance on the list since 1996, had a PPP of $1.18 million in 2009. Williams & Connolly brought in revenues of $287 million in 2009, marking a 7.9% increase over 2008.
At $1.2 million, Covington & Burling had the highest PPP among Washington-based firms, though it was 7.7% lower than the $1.3 million the firm reported in 2008. In 2009, Covington brought in $583 million in gross revenue and had an RPL of $855,000. This year's RPL was down 5.3% from 2008.
In what will be its last appearance on the Am Law 100 list before its merger with Lovells, Hogan & Hartson saw its gross revenue fall 6.3%, going from $922.5 million to $864,5 million. Hogan’s RPL fell from $835,000 to $770,000, a decrease of 7.8%. The firm’s PPP, however, increased 4.7% to $1.11 million.
Arnold & Porter posted the largest increase to PPP among Washington-based firms, leaping 11% from $910,000 to $1.01 million. Arnold & Porter’s gross revenue went from $513 million to 524 million, an increase of 2.1%.
At the other end of the spectrum, Howrey posted the largest decreases to gross revenue, RPL and PPP of all the firms based in Washington. Howrey’s gross revenue tumbled 16.2%, going from $573 million in 2008 to $480 million in 2009. RPL fell from $870,000 to $705,000. And most dramatically, Howrey’s PPP plummeted 35%, dropping from $1.3 million to $845,000.
Howrey has attributed those decreases to the lack of large contingency payments that it saw in 2008, which drove revenues and profits to the highest levels the firm has seen.