While revenue fell to $546 million, equity partners saw the silver lining, with their profit up 2.6 percent to an average $696,000 on a compensation pool that was almost flat at $133 million. Average compensation for all partners grew nearly 5 percent to $453,164. Revenue per lawyer fell 0.77 percent.
One of the nation's largest law firms has, for the first time in many years, dipped below the 1,000-lawyer mark, reporting 934 lawyers firmwide.
The number of equity partners saw a net drop of four, to 191. But the biggest drop was in non-equity partners. A total of 352 at year-end represents a one-year drop of 43, or 11 percent. The partner count fell 8 percent to 543.
"The conclusion I draw is that they are obviously taking steps to protect the rainmakers," said Joe Ankus, longtime legal headhunter with Ankus Consulting in Weston and a former Holland & Knight attorney.
"They're taking care of the equity partners because the equities put the gas in the engine. Without rainmakers, you have no firm. Without clients, you have a social club."
Managing partner Steven Sonberg agreed with those observations, saying, "It was obviously a difficult year for all law firms, and we were fortunate that we up-front anticipated it was going to be a difficult year, took actions to deal with that, and as a result we were pleased with our 2009 results."
Holland & Knight, which has 21 offices around the world, is one of Florida's most venerable law firms, led for years by legal legend Chesterfield Smith, a former president of the American Bar Association and The Florida Bar. The late attorney was known for shaping the modern-day Holland & Knight, emphasizing that its attorneys should be generous with their pro bono work and public service.
But Holland's pro bono caseload sharply declined this year, with pro bono hours plummeting 12 percent and the number of lawyers performing 20 or more hours dropping 13 percent. Corporate work was relatively steady, generating 29 percent of the firm's revenue.
Holland ranked 44th nationally among law firms by revenue last year.
Litigation provided 42 percent of the firm's total revenue last year compared with 39 percent in 2005, while real estate sector fell to 16 percent from 19 percent.
Overall, the numbers could have been worse, Ankus reflected.
"I'm looking for percentage drops of 25 to 30 percent. That's what would make me sit up and take notice."