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Not-So-Bad News for BigLaw: Small Drop in Head Count, Small Boost in Partner Profits

Posted Apr 29, 2010 7:16 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Things weren’t so bad last year in BigLaw, new financial numbers reveal. Head count at the nation’s top 100 firms dropped by 1,219 lawyers last year, just a 1 percent decline, even as half the law firms increased in size. And profits per equity partner increased slightly, by .3 percent, boosting the annual average to $1.26 million.

The American Lawyer released the numbers and explained the reason for the higher average partner profits. First, law firms “aggressively reduced expenses.” Second, firms cut equity partners by .73 percent. In raw numbers, there were 139 fewer equity partners last year, but 640 more nonequity partners. Indeed, nonequity partners now make up a record 37.9 percent of all partners in the top 100 law firms.

Overall, “the bad results weren't nearly as dire as many firms had feared just a year ago,” the American Lawyer says. Gross revenue was down by 3.4 percent and revenue per lawyer was down by 2 percent. Law firms in New York did better, on average, than large law firms in other cities, a “sharp contrast” to 2008 when New York firms did worse.

The story also notes that Baker & McKenzie has taken the top spot in terms of gross revenue, topping Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Here are the top five firms, in terms of gross revenue:

1) Baker & McKenzie, $2.112 billion

2) Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, $2.100 billion

3) Latham & Watkins, $1.821 billion

4) Jones Day, $1.520 billion

5) Kirkland & Ellis, $1.428 billion

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