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The American Lawyer released their 33rd annual Am Law 100 report, which includes data and rankings for the nation’s 100 highest grossing law firms. Overall, gross revenue grew by 5 percent in 2019, coming in at a record breaking $104 billion. Additionally, net income increased by 4 percent, profit per equity partner grew by 5 percent, and revenue per lawyer rose by 3 percent.

According to the report, forty-two firms posted gross revenue over $1 billion in 2019, four more law firms than in 2018. Additionally, eighty-six firms reported gains in revenue and increased profits per partner in 2019. The results revealed that Kansas-city based Polsinelli reported the greatest increase in average profit per equity partner, up 28.3% from 2018.

Like in 2018, the 10 highest-grossing firms ranked in roughly 26% of the revenue the Am Law 100 generated last year, the report revealed. The next 16 firms accounted for another quarter of the year’s revenue, meaning that half of the revenue generated by the Am Law 100 came from the top 26 law firms. In terms of parity, it was a step forward after the top 10 firms alone brought in 38% of the group’s total revenue just two years ago, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

For the third straight year in a row, Kirkland & Ellis landed the No. 1 spot as the highest grossing law firm in 2019, with $4.154 billion in revenue, up 10.6% from 2018. Latham & Watkins remained in the No. 2 spot, rising 11.3% in total revenue to $3.767 billion. DLA Piper moved up one spot from last year coming in at No. 3 with $3.112 billion. Baker & McKenzie claimed the No. 4 spot, with $2.920 billion in revenue. Skadden Arps retained the No. 5 spot, down 1.5 percent to 2.632 billion in 2019.

See more highlights from The Am Law 100 on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

In a recent article, “The Rise of the Non-Equity Partner: Short Term Gain for Long Term Pain?,” James Willer, writing for Law.com, reports on the rise of non-equity partnership in today’s lateral market. According to ALM Intelligence, the number of non-equity partners across the Am Law 200 over the past ten years has increased by 36% from 17,086 to 23,166. On average, non-equity partners now represent a 44% share of the overall partnership at Am law 200 firms. This contrasts with 38% in 2009. In 2018 alone, 46% of Am Law 200 firms increased the proportion of non-equity partners within their overall partnership. By increasing non-equity numbers, while keeping equity partners relatively flat or at least growing incrementally, firms can maintain high-levels of Profits Per Equity Partner (PEP) and therefore bolster retainment of its top-performing equity partners, the article notes.

Accordingly, law firms in the top echelons of the legal market have come to realize how useful PEP can be as a competitive advantage in the lateral hiring market. For these firms, PEP is now not only one of the most important metrics at their disposal but provides the primary means to maintain a business model built largely on talent management, recruitment, and retention. This weaponizing of PEP has since trickled down to the rest of the market, as more firms begin to grapple with issues of retainment and retention of top performers. The result has been a market-wide shifting of the partnership model. Partnership adjustments are one of the few remaining mechanisms at the disposal of firms that can be reliably utilized to increase PEP expeditiously, (as quoted in Law.com).

The shift towards more non-equity partners is only likely to accelerate as the lateral hiring market’s requisite need for strong PEP growth intensifies, Willer notes. However, Willer cautions that firms should be wary of placing too much short-term emphasis on tweaking partnership structures. To do so runs this risk of losing sight of the need to ensure that more organic measures of long-term sustainability such as RPL growth and costs management still need to be adhered to. According to Willer, firms need to have in place clear strategies from the outset to secure and retain talent not just at the equity level, but across the full spectrum of partnership. This could include ensuring contributions to firm profitability or business development are effectively incentivized or having in place clear pathways of professional development, (as quoted in Law.com)

See highlights from the full article on Law.com.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer released its annual Global 100 report, a ranking of the world’s 100 largest law firms by gross revenue, profits per partner, and total attorney headcount. Overall, gross revenue grew by 8.1 percent to $114.2 billion, and profits per equity partner increased, on average, by 4.6 percent. Attorney headcount also saw an increase this year, with an annual growth of 5.7 percent. According to the report, law firm mergers, rapid growth among Chinese law firms, and a healthy American market coalesced to turn 2018 into a spectacular year.

The report revealed that a total of 46 firms cracked the $1 billion mark, up from 34 firms two years ago. Of those 46 billion-dollar firms, United States accounted for 77 of the world’s top-grossing firms, followed by 12 from the United Kingdom, and five from China. Additionally, this is the fourth time in the history of Am Law’s global ranking that U.S.-based firms occupied the top five spots. The top five firms in their respective order were Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins, Baker & McKenzieDLA Piper and Skadden Arps.

“Globally, most key practice areas were subject to brisk demand. The merger and acquisitions environment was active, albeit stronger in some markets than others. Disputes work, particularly international litigation and arbitration, kept practitioners busy. And an anticipated dip in investigations did not materialize, with sanctions, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering matters dotting the headlines. Other factors, beyond growing demand, also helped boost the numbers including two significant mergers between U.S.-based firms and two significant trans-Atlantic mergers: Nelson Mullins combination with Broad and Cassel and Hunton & Williams merger with Andrews Kurth Kenyon on the domestic side, and the creation of Womble Bond Dickinson and Bryan Cave internationally,” (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See the full rankings and highlights from The Global 100 on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer released their 32nd annual Am Law 100 report, which includes data and rankings for the nation’s 100 highest grossing law firms. Overall, gross revenue grew by 8 percent in 2018, coming in at a record breaking $98.7 billion. Additionally, net income increased by 7.8 percent, profit per equity partner grew by 6.5 percent, revenue per lawyer moved up 4.2 percent, and total attorney headcount rose 3.6 percent.

According to the report, thirty-seven firms posted gross revenue over $1 billion in 2018, six more law firms than in 2017. Additionally, ninety-three firms reported gains in revenue, up from 85 firms last year. For 2018, the top 10 firms accounted for 26 percent of the Am Law 100’s total revenue. The next 17 firms accounted for the next 25 percent of revenue. Firms No. 28 thru 53 accounted for another quarter of the revenue, and the final 47 firms generated the remaining 24 percent of the total Am Law 100 firms, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

For the second straight year, Kirkland & Ellis landed the No. 1 spot as the highest grossing law firm in 2018, with $3.757 billion in revenue, up 18.7% from 2017. Latham & Watkins remained in the No. 2 spot, rising 10.5% in total revenue to $3.386 billion. Baker & McKenzie retained the No. 3 spot, with $2.900 billion in revenue. DLA Piper remained in its respective spot from last year coming in at No. 4 with $2.836 billion. Skadden Arps claimed the No. 5 spot, up 3.5 percent to 2.673 billion in 2018.

See more highlights from The Am Law 100 on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer reports that law firm profitability is at a record high, according to a recent report released by ALM Intelligence. The report revealed that the average equity partner, at an Am Law 200 firm, received $1.8 million in profit sharing compensation last year. This is higher than any point in recorded history (the Am Law 200 data goes back to 1984). In addition, average profits per equity partner are nearly $500k dollars more, in nominal terms, than they were at the peak in profitability experienced before the past downturn. Even after adjusting for inflation, profits per equity partner are $125k per year more than they were a decade ago.

Given the myriad of obstacles law firms are currently facing, this raises an obvious question — how are law firms doing it? Director at ALM Legal Intelligence, Nicholas Bruch investigates, positing that there are four ways to increase firm wide profitability. The most straightforward path is to focus on increasing revenue per lawyer, notes Bruch. This can be achieved in several ways. Firms can increase worked hours by, for example, increasing hourly targets on associates. They can also increase utilization rates or realization rates. While these “levers” can boost a firm’s revenue per lawyer the most potent lever is rate increases. Increasing prices – which most often means increasing hourly rates – is the most rapid and straightforward path to increasing revenue per lawyer, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

The next, most obvious, path to higher PPEP is to reduce costs. Again, there are multiple ways to accomplish this goal. According to Bruch, firms can reduce salary costs. This can be accomplished by cutting salaries or, more realistically, by shifting work to lower cost resources – either less skilled individuals or individuals who are based in lower cost locations. While these strategies have been pursued by some firms, Bruch notes that the more common route to lower costs has been to reduce both direct and indirect expenses, or more broadly speaking, “overhead”. Bruch adds that the last two paths to boost a firm’s profits per equity partner are to increase the firms’ leverage by either hiring more associates or by shifting the structure of the partnership to include more non-equity partners and fewer equity partners, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer released their annual Global 100 report, a ranking of the world’s 100 largest law firms by gross revenue, profits per partner, and total attorney headcount. Overall, gross revenue for the Global 100 grew by 6.4 percent to $105.7 billion, and profits per equity partner among Global 100 firms increased, on average, by 3.4 percent. Attorney headcount also saw an increase this year, with an annual growth of 10.7 percent.

For the third time in the history of Am Law’s global ranking, U.S.-based firms occupied the top five spots. Kirkland & Ellis advanced two spots this year to claim the No. 1 spot, knocking Latham & Watkins and Baker & McKenzie down to spots 2 and 3, respectively. Kirkland and Latham both cracked $3 billion in total revenue for the first time in 2017. But while Latham posted a commendable 8 percent increase in revenue, Kirkland’s grew at a whopping 18 percent, more than any other American firm. DLA Piper and Skadden Arps remained in their respective spots from last year, coming in at number 4 and number 5.

Another takeaway for all these firms—and those on the outside looking in—is the gap between total revenue growth and PEP. Even with plenty of money coming in, costs are growing across the world. That, according to former Clifford Chance managing partner Tony Williams, is causing firms to “look much more carefully at who becomes an equity partner and who stays one.” Those elite American firms, consolidating their hold on the top of the list, are already doing this. Now it’s up to those who wish to be in their position to follow suit, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

Law firms have a lot of room to increase leverage, despite clients pushing back against the use of more junior lawyers, reports ALM Intelligence Analyst, Nicholas Bruch from The American Lawyer. Bruch notes that real-world pyramid structures will never be perfect, nor will work cascade down them smoothly. However, he adds it’s hard to escape the inference that there is a lot more room for increased delegation and leverage. In addition, there are many forces that align against increasing leverage, however, they can be overcome.

Nicholas Bruch notes that a starting point is that partners be clear on what increasing leverage requires. “It is not achieved, as some partners initially think, by adding associate hours on their matters, something they know to be difficult given the pushback they get from clients on ‘overstaffing.’ Rather it is about replacing partner hours with associate hours, keeping total hours close to constant, and bringing down total billings,” Bruch adds.

According to Bruch, it helps to also track and report out on leverage as closely as firms track partner hours; to get profitability measurement right (i.e. not just realization, but the combined effect of realization and leverage); and to have structured discussions about increasing leverage among partners (so all can see leverage can be increased without departing from the group identity as great lawyers). Curiously, raising partner billing rates also plays a role: some partners like to keep their rates low as they know not all they do is true partner work; raising partner rates leans against this, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Nicholas Bruch concludes that that the overarching message is that firms need to grow PPP to be competitive in the market for partner talent; increased leverage is a proven driver of PPP growth; today’s leverage levels are about half of what they could be; and firms have proven they can raise leverage despite the forces that align against doing so. The implication: leverage increases have a lot further to go.

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer published results from its annual Am Law 200 report, which includes data and rankings for the nation’s Second Hundred highest grossing law firms. Overall, gross revenue decreased on average by 0.2 percent, net income decreased by 1.4 percent, profit per equity partner decreased by 1.4 percent, revenue per lawyer decreased by 0.3 percent, and headcount rose 0.1 percent.

Although the group as a whole declined in all major metrics, the report revealed that eight Second Hundred firms saw double-digit revenue growth and 22 firms had growth of 5 percent or more. Among the Second Hundred firms, Kobre & Kim had the largest increase in revenue, up by 49 percent. According to the report, one firm dropped from the Am Law 100 to the Second Hundred this year: Pepper Hamilton. Meanwhile, six firms moved onto the Am Law 200. They were Buchalter; Cole Schotz; Eckert Seamans; Goldberg Segalla; Herrick Feinstein; and Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

“The 2018 Am Law 200 data reflects a stark contrast to this year’s Am Law 100,” notes Gina Passarella, Editor-in-Chief of The American Lawyer. “The declines in key financial metrics among the Am Law Second Hundred were more to do with the firms who fell off the list via merger or closure than an overall decline in financial health of the group as a whole. These stats show there is much more volatility in the Second Hundred when it comes to who is on or off the list than we saw with the Am Law 100.”

Senior Analyst at ALM Intelligence, Nicholas Bruch adds, “Two important findings emerge from the Am Law 200 data. First, many firms within the Second Hundred are struggling with the transition the legal market is undergoing right now. Am Law Second Hundred firms fared less well, on average than their larger peers. The second finding is more hopeful. Many firms within the Second Hundred produced strong years. This points to a fact we see very clearly in the Am Law data: that some firms are finding ways to manage difficult market conditions and outperform the market.”

See more highlights from The Am Law 200 on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer released their 31st annual Am Law 100 report, which includes data and rankings for the nation’s 100 highest grossing law firms. Overall, gross revenue increased on average by 5.5 percent, net income increased by 6.1 percent, profit per equity partner grew by 6.3 percent, revenue per lawyer moved up 3.2 percent, and headcount rose 2.2 percent.

According to the report, thirty-one firms posted gross revenue over $1 billion in 2017, four more law firms than in 2016. Additionally, eighty-five firms reported gains in revenue, up from 82 firms last year. Kirkland & Ellis landed the No. 1 spot as the highest grossing firm in 2017, with $3.165 billion in revenue, up 19.4% from the previous year. Latham & Watkins, who had been on top for the last three years, dropped one spot to No. 2 with a record $3.064 billion in revenue. Baker & McKenzie remained in the No. 3 spot, with $2.670 billion in revenue. DLA Piper advanced one spot to No. 4 this year, after a 6.6% increase in revenue, knocking Skadden Arps down to the No. 5 spot.

“Despite increasing pressures on price and demand, more firms saw growth in revenue and profits in 2017 than they did in the prior year. A closer look at the data shows the firms toward the top of the 100 are growing at faster rates than the bottom half of the list, continuing a trend of stratification we have seen building over years. But all in all, most firms figured out a way to show increasing returns in 2017,” notes Gina Passarella, Editor-in-Chief of The American Lawyer.

See highlights from the full report and article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.