Perhaps the reports of Big Law’s last days were a bit premature. Mayer Brown, the firm that The New Republic chose last year as a case study for the dysfunction of large law firms and imminent problems the Big Law firm model faces, saw profits per equity partner jump more than 11 percent in 2013 on the back of 5 percent revenue growth, according to The American Lawyer’s reporting. Mayer Brown’s PPP shot up to $1.285 million, the highest profits ever for the firm.
Mayer Brown posted its prior highest profit numbers in 2007, before the financial crisis, when PPP hit $1.24 million. The partnership was considerably larger at that point, with 318 equity partners, more than 15 percent more than the 269 who split the profits in 2013.
Firm chair Paul Theiss said that the firm’s litigation and finance practices had strong years in 2013 and that revenue was up in each of the firm’s three geographic regions—the Americas, Asia and Europe. Gross revenue hit $1.146 billion in 2013, compared with $1.09 billion in 2012.
On the corporate side, the firm represented Chinese state-owned chemical giant Sinochem in its purchase of a 40 percent stake in an oil and gas leasehold from Dallas’ Pioneer Natural Resources Company, which was represented by Vinson & Elkins. And as previously reported in the Litigation Daily, an Am Law Daily affiliate, Mayer Brown litigators helped shepherd a contentious $8.5 billion settlement through the courts for client Bank of New York Mellon Corp., which was acting in its role as the trustee of a trove of distressed Countrywide Financial Corp. mortgage-backed securities.
With overall attorney and partner head count relatively flat, revenue per lawyer was up 4 percent, to $780,000. Average compensation for all partners—a measure that takes into account the firm’s nonequity tier—rose 11.6 percent, to $820,000, a jump that virtually matched that of PPP.
“Over the last dozen years or so we’ve built a very nice global footprint to be able to serve the world largest financial institutions and other global companies,” Theiss said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The growth that we’ve had in doing that has led to efficiencies in ways to operate as a single global firm.” Theiss says the firm’s recent review of its real estate needs and leases helped the firm’s bottom-line growth outpace top-line growth. He also says the firm has been able to manage overhead by centralizing certain vendor relationships and in-house functions.
Theiss also says clients have responded well to the firm’s move to build cross-firm client teams to serve its largest clients. He says the firm handled “material work” in three or more offices for its 25 largest clients last year, and matters in all three of its geographic regions for 21 of those top 25 clients.
As to The New Republic article, which generated quite a response in these pages and elsewhere last year, Theiss says he doesn’t buy the underlying premise that only 20 or 25 Big Law firms will remain in a decade. “I think that the lawyers and the staff at Mayer Brown know what kind of firm we have, and they know the kind of future we have, and, quite frankly, internally the reaction was that that article had nothing to do with Mayer Brown and the way that Mayer Brown is today,” he said.