Connecticut offices of national or regional law firms are continuing to see growth in both gross revenue and national visibility.
Some expanded into new practice areas by adding lateral partners. Others have strengthened client relationships to handle legal work on a national and international basis. Several reported increasing the services they offer within established practice areas.
Still, just a handful of the national or regional firms with offices in Connecticut improved their position on the Am Law 200 based on gross revenue. Among those, Bracewell & Giuliani, with 12 lawyers working in Hartford, burst into the top 100 firms — at No. 92 — for the first time. Last year, the firm was ranked 106th.
Another rising firm with a small Connecticut office is Fox Rothschild, which continues to expand its international practice areas. That firm climbed from 118th to 111th, thanks to revenue growth of 7 percent.
Labor and employment law continued to thrive. Leading national practices at Jackson Lewis and Littler Mendelson have recorded their fifth straight year of gains in national gross revenue and revenue per lawyer. Partners in the Connecticut offices of both firms said they continue to see increased business as the result of an active regulatory environment.
"We broke into the Am Law 100," said Gregory W. Nye, who is managing partner of Bracewell & Giuliani's Hartford office. "I think it's great for the firm's reputation and it's also a recognition of the hard work that's being done at a firm that's been around for a number of years.
Nye, who left Bingham McCutchen to join the firm about six years ago, said 2012 was an especially good year for the 12-lawyer Connecticut office. The firm continued to build on its debt restructuring practice. It also hired Charles F. Vandenburgh, from the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf, to launch a new practice for the Hartford office, handling financing and acquisitions deals for corporate clients in the energy sector.
"Our largest office, the Houston office, has an industry-leading energy practice, and that practice area has been booming firm-wide in recent years," Nye said. When the firm saw a chance to add an energy corporate practice to the Hartford office, it "jumped at the chance," Nye said.
Bracewell's managing partner, Marc C. Evans, explained the strategy. "We have been looking to enhance our energy practice in the Northeast, and hiring Vandenburgh immediately helped us in this regard," Evans said. "He's an outstanding addition to the firm."
Firmwide, Bracewell saw its revenue per lawyer grow 16.5 percent, to $750,000. Gross revenues also grew by about same percentage, to $325 million. Nye said that even though Vandenburgh and a few other attorneys have been hired to bolster certain practice areas, the overall head count has remained fairly stable, growing by just 10 lawyers nationally, to 432 lawyers.
"It's important to note that our increase in revenues was not the result of mergers or large acquisitions," he said. "When you come right down to it, there was more attention placed on more efficient use of our lawyers."
The 490-lawyer firm, which has one partner based in Stamford, made the largest gain on the AmLaw 200, moving from 118th place last year to 111th this year. The firm increased its revenue for the second year in a row, rising from about $257 million in 2011 to $277 million in 2012.
Paul Edelberg, whose practice in Stamford includes representing clients in mergers and other transactions involving U.S. and Chinese corporations, deferred comments to managing partner Mark Silow. The firm's strategy of growth, Silow has said previously, has been to build diversified practices in areas that weather economic downturns, including representing corporate clients. Edleberg's Connecticut practice has been an important part of that approach. "For the last eight years or so, we have been dedicated to growth," Silow has said. "We identified that growth and it is important to us for our profitability."
The firm has been on a hiring spree at just about all of its offices. It recently opened offices with an average of 20 lawyers each in Denver, Miami and Washington, D.C. Silow did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the Connecticut office would be expanding.
Shareholder George O'Brien, whose firm is ranked 64th on the Am Law 100 ranking, said the 10 lawyers in the New Haven Little Mendelson office kept "very busy" representing business clients dealing with employment disputes in 2012.
The firm's revenues were up by about 6 percent in 2012 over the year before, reaching $455 million. O'Brien said that nationally, the firm has made hires of lateral partners to enhance its ability to offer counseling on wage and hour issues and other matters. With 980 lawyers in 60 offices, the firm is mainly involved in defending business clients in cases involving harassment, discrimination, breach of contract and unfair business practices.
As with other offices across the country, the New Haven office was involved in handling dozens of unfair labor grievances last year. "The U.S Department of Labor has become much more active in what pursuing what it regards as wage and hour abuses," O'Brien said.
Additionally, he said, federal agencies have become more involved in investigating claims that some businesses categorize workers as independent contractors, instead of employees, in order to save on tax payments and other costs. That crackdown has especially affected large construction companies.
Like other local offices of national firms, O'Brien said his Connecticut clients benefit from the firm being able to connect them with lawyers across the country who have experience with specific legal issues. "If I need to get someone involved in an esoteric topic, I can get a person on the phone with my client in five minutes," he said. Nationally, "we've got an immigration group, a pension group. Because we are part of a large firm, we've got every possible situation covered."
Looking forward, the firm is making hires to add to its ability to represent business clients against class action lawsuits. He plans on hiring two lawyers in Connecticut with class action experience in the next 12 months.
Beverly Garofalo, managing partner of the Hartford office of Jackson Lewis, saw the firm's revenues jump 15.2 percent from 2010 to 2011, making it to the AmLaw 100 for the first time last year. This year, revenues took another leap, of about 7 percent, reaching $352 million. The firm now ranks 82nd nationally.
Garofalo said the 22 lawyers in Hartford and 8 in Stamford have recently handled more than 350 litigations, including defending employers in wage and hourly cases and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination complaints.
In addition, the office is involved in about 20 class action lawsuits.
Garofalo said one reason the Connecticut offices continue to be busy is that they have developed client relationships all over the country and not just in the state. Part of the appeal for Jackson Lewis clients, she said, is that they have access to 53 offices and 750 attorneys. "If a client comes in with an action for the Americans With Disabilities Act, [someone in the firm] can handle that," she said.
One area that increased last year was in providing what Garofalo calls "preventative" work. "We've been increasing our focus on advising clients so they can navigate through the growing web of government regulations," she said. "It's becoming increasingly challenging for employers without a dedicated bench of employment lawyers to ensure they are in compliance of employment laws."
With 23 offices nationwide, and 20 lawyers in Stamford, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker is No. 105 on the AmLaw 100.
The firm has grown from just a few lawyers in Connecticut five years ago to its current size; there are plans to hire more. Even though the firm saw its gross revenue slip about 5 percent nationally from the year before, Brian Del Gatto, its regional managing partner, said 2012 was a very successful year.
He said business is growing in several practice areas in the Stamford office. One is insurance defense. Another is representing clients in debt under the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which forbids abusive debt collection practices.
Del Gatto, who heads the firm's transportation, cargo and logistics practice team, said his office continues to represent clients in all aspects of the trucking business, including defending them against negligence claims resulting from traffic accidents.
One new endeavor is a lobbying practice launched last year by partner David Rose. The firm is looking into expanding that practice, and is also actively looking to launch new practice groups in other practice areas through lateral hires. "We are considering and looking at lateral groups, and looking at expanding our office, not just in Stamford but possibly into Hartford, because of the lobbying practice we have there," Del Gatto said.•