The National Law Journal released its annual NLJ 500 rankings, which analyzes headcount data on the nation’s largest 500 law firms. According to the report, the number of lawyers in the NLJ 500 grew 2.5% in 2018 to 169,477, and the average firm size rose by eight lawyers last year to 339. By comparison, the NLJ 500 grew by 1% in 2017 and by about 2% in 2016. Partnerships expanded by just over 1% last year, driven by nonequity partnership growth of 3.8% in 2018, the report also revealed.
According to the report, three firms in the top ten saw upward movement including Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, and Morgan Lewis. New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston were the top cities with the most lawyers in this year’s NLJ 500. Additionally, one group that showed unexpected growth in the 2019 NLJ 500 was the category of “other” lawyers, which encompasses counsel, senior attorneys, of counsel and staff attorneys. This cohort showed a net gain of 1,171 lawyers—up 6.4% in 2018. That’s compared to a net gain of 99 lawyers, or just 0.5%, in 2017.
“The 2019 NLJ 500 tells the story of more growth in 2018 than we saw in the previous two years,” said Lisa Helem, Editor-in-Chief, The National Law Journal. “Overall, the 2019 NLJ 500 findings, especially at the top of the list, along with profit increases for much of the Am Law 200, reflect an industry enjoying rising demand and faster growth. The average head count increase—still in the low single digits—is a far cry from the 4% or 5% growth firms saw in the pre-recession period from 2005 to 2008. But given the ugly contraction that followed, there’s something to be said for this year’s more modest gains,” (as quoted in The National Law Journal).
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The gap in gender parity in the legal industry remains somewhat stagnant, but there are Big Law firms that have adopted new cultures and strategies to attract and retain women lawyers. The National Law Journal highlights those firms in their annual survey of the top 100 firms with the highest number of women attorneys. The rankings were based on survey responses from 254 of the 350 largest U.S. law firms.
New York-based Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewry is the leading firm for women again, a repeating factor since 2011. With 62 percent of its attorneys being women, and 48 percent of partners, Fragomen has been a frontrunner in retaining women attorneys for years. Partner, Cynthia Lange, who joined the firm in 1986, tells the American Lawyer, “It starts from the top. Even 30 years ago, they were fabulous at recognizing women.” Behind Fragomen, the top 5 on the list are: Minneapolis-based Foley & Mansfield; Ford & Harrison; Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete of Atlanta; and Best Best & Krieger of Riverside, California.
Employment firm Jackson Lewis, at No. 8, has promoted a number of part-time attorneys to partners, says Stephanie Adler-Paindiris, co-leader of the firms’ class actions and complex litigation practice group. Adler-Paindiris explains, “There’s an understanding from above about the importance of family and people’s lives.”
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison deputy chair, Valeria Radwaner, explains her firm’s outlook, “We have to give women visibility in the community, encourage them to take leadership positions and run practice groups. We encourage them to say, ‘Yes.’ That’s how they become leaders.” Paul Weiss at No. 31 is the highest ranked Big Law firm in New York that made the list, with 40 percent of its attorneys being women and 22 percent of partners. The firm has created programs designed to motivate women attorneys and develop their careers. Radwaner notes that programs alone don’t create meaningful change. She says, “At the end of the day, the program mixed with the tone from the top is really what I think makes the difference.”
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Fifteen Southern California firms have just been featured by The National Law Journal as demonstrating “excellence in practice areas critical to the Southern California economy and legal community.”
Loeb & Loeb received the top honors in the Entertainment industry. Nossaman was crowned the winner for Government Contracts, and global giant DLA Piper took the Real Estate category. Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius won for Litigation.
Read the profiles of the winners and finalists here.