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January 22, 2010 12:04 PM

The Am Law 100: Sonnenschein Profits Drop 3 Percent

Posted by Ross Todd

Profits per equity partner dropped 3 percent at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in 2009, according to figures reported by the firm late Thursday, and gross revenue was flat. PPP fell from $804,000 in 2008 to $780,000 last year. Gross slipped from $473 million in 2008 to $472.5 million, according to the firm.

"[The] bottom line for us is that we are very pleased with the performance in view of the substantial investment we made in January 2009 to add 100 new lawyers from Thacher Proffitt," Sonnenschein chair Elliott Portnoy said via e-mail Thursday. Portnoy was traveling and unavailable for a phone interview. 

Last year marked the second straight year of lower profits at Sonnenschein; PPP dropped more than 12 percent to $804,000 in 2008. The firm also restated its 2008 gross revenue numbers Thursday. Last year the firm reported $492 million in gross revenue in 2008, but yesterday Sonnenschein lowered that figure to $473 million. The firm attributed the discrepancy between the two figures to a change in accounting. Sonnenschein previously reported gross revenue on an accrual basis, but now reports it on a cash basis to match the method it uses to report net distribution to partners. The change in accounting affects Sonnenschein's revenue per lawyer numbers. The firm reported Thursday a drop of 7 percent from $778,000 in 2008 to $722,000 in 2009. When using the numbers the firm reported last year, the drop in RPL is 11 percent from $808,000 to $722,000.

Part of the RPL drop can be attributed to Sonnenschein's boost in head count. The firm grew from 608 lawyers in 2008 to 654 in 2009. On January 1, 2009, Sonnenschein added 100 lawyers from New York's Thacher Proffitt & Wood, including 40 partners. The hires--the largest lateral group the firm has taken on--nearly doubled the size of Sonnenschein's New York office.

The Thacher Proffitt lawyers brought with them a $500,000 contract awarded in December 2008 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to advise on its investments in the Federal Reserve's Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF). In March, Sonnenschein was chosen along with Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft and Haynes and Boone to advise the Treasury Department on its role in last year's auto industry restructurings. The auto industry contract carried a ceiling value of $8.59 million.

Sonnenschein, like many firms last year, also employed a number of cost-cutting measures. The firm cut associate compensation in June and announced in December that it would roll out a new merit-based associate compensation structure in early 2010. In September The Am Law Daily's colleagues at The National Law Journal reported that the firm cut about 30 lawyers, including ten income partners--the third series of personnel cuts at the firm in an 18-month period.


This report is part of The Am Law Daily's ongoing Web coverage of The Am Law 100’s 2009 financials. Results are preliminary. Final rankings and full results for The Am Law 100 will be published in The American Lawyer's May 2010 issue and on AmericanLawyer.com. The Am Law Second Hundred will be published in the June issue.

The final published results of last year's Am Law 100 rankings are available here.

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