The Score

May 28, 2009 5:30 AM

The Am Law 200 2009: Where the Work Was

Posted by Ed Shanahan

By Amy Kolz From the June 2009 Issue of The American Lawyer

For years, the regional firms that constitute much of the Second Hundred were told that they were exactly the wrong size: too big to compete with the narrow focus of boutiques and too small to match The Am Law 100's national footprints and marquee names. But last year, as the financial sector began its meltdown, the Second Hundred's slow-growth strategies were vindicated.

While average revenue per lawyer at The Am Law 100 decreased by 1.2 percent in 2008 (the first decline since 1991), Second Hundred firms were essentially flat. Forty-nine Second Hundred firms posted increases in RPL, compared to 42 Am Law 100 firms.

What's more, the firms that outperformed were the ones that pointedly ignored The Am Law 100's usual recipe for growth--relentless focus on the most lucrative markets, practices, and clients. This time around, it was Second Hundred firms based in middle markets that showed the most growth. Milwaukee's Second Hundred firms increased their revenue per lawyer by an average of 3.2 percent. Indianapolis's and Kansas City, Missouri's showed average RPL gains of 3.1 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively. Snell & Wilmer, the only Phoenix firm with a multiyear presence in The Am Law 200 (a second firm, Lewis and Roca, was added this year), increased its RPL by 8.6 percent.

Firms in these markets increased their profits per partner by an average of 1.5 - 6.4 percent, compared to an average decline of 2.6 percent for the Second Hundred as a whole and 4.3 percent for The Am Law 100.

These overachievers ignored the conventional wisdom: They held on to less-profitable practices; they worked with clients on matters far removed from the Wall Street money machine; and they contented themselves with fees that were a fraction of their East Coast and national siblings.

Click here to access the full report and here for the complete Am Law 200 2009 package, including the Second Hundred charts.

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