The Am Law 100, our sibling publication The American Lawyer’s annual survey of firm finances, is out today. And after the gloomy financial picture of 2008 and 2009, profits rebounded for the nation’s top-grossing firms, the magazine reported.
The news, however, was tempered by relatively flat revenue growth and the jump in profits appears to have had more to do with cutting lawyers and staff than a significant bump in business. As we reported last week, headcount at the nation’s largest firms declined sharply again last year.
How did Washington’s top players do in the Am Law ranking? Home-grown firms — the 11 firms on the list that got their start in D.C. or still call the District their primary home — had mixed results. Taken together, they grew revenue by less than 1% last year. Profit growth was somewhat stronger — up 3.4% — as was revenue per lawyer (up 3.1%).
Arnold & Porter saw the strongest bounce in revenues among those firms, posting a 5.9% increase in gross revenue last year. Overall, the firm grossed $555 million, enough to push it back into the top 50 on the Am Law 100.
Thomas Milch, Arnold & Porter’s chairman, said the firm was performing strongly in a number of practices, including internal investigations, litigation and regulation — especially environmental, antitrust and health care matters. The firm, which is known for its regulatory work, is “striving to balance our portfolio,” Milch said, by expanding its intellectual property and corporate practices — particularly in middle market M&A and private equity work.
The antitrust practice provided one of 2010’s marquee engagements for the firm: Arnold & Porter lawyers counseled General Electric in its sale of NBCUniversal to Comcast. And on the environmental side, Milch himself has been contributing strongly to the kitty: He’s deeply involved in work stemming from the BP oil spill.
When Democrats took the White House and Congress in 2008, Washington firms had expected a flood of regulation – and a corresponding surge in business. That didn’t happen. While regulatory work did increase in 2010, Milch cautioned against reading it as a sign of a boom. “My view on this is a little tempered,” Milch said. “I think that there has been an increase [in regulatory work] ... but it’s less than predicted if you look at the overall.”