The Score

May 14, 2010 3:23 PM

THE AM LAW 100 2010: The Departure Lounge

Posted by Ed Shanahan

By Claire Zillman from the May 2010 Issue of The American Lawyer

AL100Logo-128 Associate layoffs, coupled with weakness in transactional practices, knocked a handful of Am Law 100 mainstays off this year's list and opened the door for five litigation-oriented Second Hundred contenders.

Chief among the departees was Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, which fell to the Second Hundred for the first time ever. The New York firm has been on The Am Law 100 since its inception in 1987, and before that, was on 1986's Am Law 75 and 1985's debut Am Law 50, where it was ranked number 32.

Since then, Stroock's position has slipped slowly, and a year ago, the firm was number 99 on The Am Law 100, with gross revenue for 2008 of $277 million; in 2009, gross revenue dropped 5 percent, to $263 million. Stroock executive director Harvey Brown told The Am Law Daily in March that the decline in gross revenue had been expected, since the firm leans heavily on its transactional and real estate pracĀ­tices--areas that struggled last year. (The firm also reduced its head count by 11 percent, to 309.)

Other firms that fell from the top 100 are:

--Ballard Spahr, where gross revenue dropped 4 percent on a 5 percent decrease in head count. The firm moves back to the Second Hundred after four years in The Am Law 100.

--Kilpatrick Stockton, where gross revenue plunged more than 11 percent. The firm told the Fulton County Daily Report, a sibling publication of The American Lawyer, that the drop, which was more severe than the firm had anticipated, was caused by the failure of its litigation and IP practices to mitigate a falloff in transactions work.

--Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, where gross revenue fell 7 percent. Managing partner Mark Wasserman says that the slide is the result of a 4.4 percent cut in head count. Wasserman says that the firm's real estate and corporate practices were "less robust" than in past years, and "we made [head count] adjustments where there was reduced demand."

--Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, which posted a 5 percent drop in gross revenue on a 1.6 percent decline in head count. "Almost all the drop in revenue was on the transactional side," says managing partner Keith Vaughan. "There was just a lot less deal activity."

Moving onto The Am Law 100 are Cozen O'Connor, which returns to the list after falling off in 2007, and four first-timers. Cozen's gross revenue jumped 23 percent, to $290 million, from $237 million in 2008, and its revenue per lawyer and profits per partner increased 10.6 and 19.3 percent, respectively. Cozen president Thomas Decker says that gross revenue growth was aided by the addition of 90 laterals in 2009, 65 of whom were from the now-defunct WolfBlock. Other factors included strong results in the firm's subrogation and insurance recovery practice and a large contingency fee that the firm booked in 2009. Decker declined to discuss the contingency fee, citing a confidentiality agreement with the firm's clients, but said that without it Cozen's gross revenue increase would have been about 10 percent.

The four other firms that moved onto the list are:

--Bracewell & Giuliani, number 101 on last year's Second Hundred, which posted a 1 percent increase in gross revenue on a 3 percent reduction in head count. In an interview with Texas Lawyer, a sibling of The American Lawyer, the firm said that it benefited from strong results in its restructuring and IP litigation practices.

--Davis Wright Tremaine, where an 8.4 percent increase in gross revenue was fueled in part by a contingency award based on the firm's work in the Exxon Valdez litigation over the course of more than 20 years. The firm said that without the award, its gross revenue and profits per partner would have risen by about 5 percent and 13 percent, respectively, rather than 8.4 percent and 15.9 percent.

--Hughes Hubbard & Reed, which attributed a 10 percent spike in gross revenue to its product liability practice and to work it did for the trustee in the liquidation of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

--Williams & Connolly, where gross revenue rose 8 percent on a 3.5 percent increase in head count. The firm declined to comment on its results, but it was involved in several high-profile litigation matters in 2009, including the defense of Wyeth in product liability suits involving hormone therapy products, and defenses of former U.S. senator Ted Stevens, Broadcom Corporation cofounder Henry Nicholas III, and former Bear Stearns hedge fund manager Ralph Cioffi.

CLICK HERE for the complete report, including all charts and feature stories.

Additional reporting by Laurie Cunningham

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