Updated at 7:15 p.m.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr showed incremental revenue growth last year – but profits per partner jumped a healthy 17%, according to figures released by the firm on Monday.
Profits per partner climbed from $1.13 million to $1.33 million last year, the firm said. While gross revenue inched up 2.2% in 2010, the firm saw a big jump in revenue per lawyer — 10.4% to $1.08 million. Overall, the firm grossed $962 million, up from $941 million in 2009.
Wilmer said it was helped by strong government regulation and investigations, securities and intellectual property practices. Also contributing to the bottom line: The firm had fewer mouths to feed. The firm, according to the NLJ 250, The National Law Journal’s annual survey of law firm head count, had 90 fewer attorneys in 2010 compared to the previous year. The partnership also declined from 318 to 297.
Co-managing partner William Perlstein said the "coming and going among the partnership” is a constant and attributed the increase in PPP to the combination of increased revenue, fewer partners and lowered expenses. Wilmer, Perlstein said, continues to lose lawyers to the Obama administration. And in November, a five-lawyer real estate group, including one Wilmer partner, left the firm for Venable LLP.
The firm is also counting on a consolidated administrative services center near Dayton, Ohio, to help reduce operational expenses and increase profitability. Opened in August, the center, Perlstein said, should have 200 employees—including a team of electronic discovery lawyers—by this spring. The center is the hub for the firm’s financial operations, human resources and document review. “What we are doing in Dayton has gotten a lot of attention,” Perlstein said. “We are one of the first firms to consolidate administrative operations in a single center.”
Perlstein said the legal industry “remains a challenging environment. Anybody who doesn’t recognize that just isn’t doing their job correctly.” Perlstein said Wilmer is “fortunate to have clients turning to us on a number of matters that are of enormous importance to them.”
Across practices, Perlstein said the firm saw a “significant” amount of work in 2010. Among the highlights: the firm said it handled more than 80 mergers and acquisitions with an aggregate value of more than $11 billion. Wilmer lawyers argued 44 cases in 17 appellate courts. In April, the firm won a ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that upheld the import ban on products that infringe six Broadcom Corp. patents for GPS navigation chips.
On the investigations front, Wilmer is one of three principle firms—including Kirkland & Ellis and Arnold & Porter—representing the oil giant BP PLC. Wilmer partner Jamie Gorelick, who chairs the firm’s public policy and strategy practice group, played a lead role as counsel to BP. The firm, Perlstein said, has devoted significant resources to advise BP. “Government-related investigations and matters were extremely busy,” Perlstein said.
Wilmer partner William McLucas, chair of the firm’s securities department, represented financier and former Obama administration official Steven Rattner in investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York state attorney general’s office. Rattner settled with New York in December, agreeing to pay $10 million to resolve allegations he participated in a kickback scheme.
On the intellectual property front, Wilmer represents Apple Inc. in a mobile phone patent dispute with Nokia Oyj that is in federal litigation and before the International Trade Commission. “Apple’s explosive success, especially in the smartphone market, came at Nokia’s expense,” Wilmer co-managing partner William Lee told Bloomberg news in November.
“Both in the technology area and in life sciences, the intellectual property litigation area was very busy,” Perlstein said.
Early last year, the firm lost litigation partner Ronald Machen Jr., who was confirmed in February as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. That same month, Daniel Gallagher Jr. left the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he had been deputy director of the agency’s division of trading and markets, to become a partner in Wilmer's securities department.
David Ogden, who served as Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.’s second-in-charge, returned to the firm in April. Ogden is co-chair of the firm’s government and regulatory litigation group. Also in April, Wilmer appellate litigation partner Edward DuMont was nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The U.S. Senate has not acted on the nomination.
Perlstein on Monday noted the recent loss of Wilmer partner Joseph Brenner to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Brenner in November was named chief counsel of the agency’s enforcement division. Brenner had been vice chair of the firm’s securities practice, working under William McLucas.
Wilmer late last year announced a succession plan, naming the attorneys who will lead the firm after Perlstein and Lee step down next January. Wilmer partners Susan Murley and Robert Novick will take over management duties. Murley is a partner in the firm’s Boston office, where she chairs the firm’s corporate and transactional department. Novick, a resident of the Washington office, chairs the firm’s regulatory and government affairs department.