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For Debevoise, the World Was Flat in 2012
The Am Law Daily
For Debevoise & Plimpton, last year was one of flat financial metrics compared to 2011, as the New York-based firm posted gross revenue of $675.5 million and profits per partner of $2.075 million, according to reporting by The American Lawyer.
"We had basically a steady performance in a flat market year," says presiding partner Michael Blair, who sees the results as in line with Citi Private Bank data showing demand for the services of Am Law 100 firms stagnating in 2012. "We're comfortable with the performance, but it's hard to say much more about it than that," says Blair, joking that he had been searching for a colorful way to frame the results.
Though Blair says none of Debevoise's practice groups saw either significant increases or declines in activity, areas of particular strength included private equity fund formation, the insurance and financial institutions practice, the international disputes practice, and the firm's overall M&A practice. In the international dispute arena, Debevoise represented Occidental Petroleum Corporation in an arbitration with Ecuador that resulted in a landmark award of approximately $1.8 billion (plus interest). The firm also represented J.P.Morgan Chase in its historic settlement with 49 states and the federal government over mortgage-servicing and foreclosure practices, as well as The Carlyle Group in a deal with Getty Images management to acquire Getty Images from Hellman & Friedman for $3.3 billion.
For the third year in a row, the firm's total head count dropped in 2012. The decline, he says, reflects Debevoise's effort to "bring head count in line with the market." Citing Citi Private Bank data again, Blair noted that the legal profession has continued to carry excess capacity, and that Debevoise specifically has tried to address the issue, in part, by hiring slightly smaller associate classes in recent years. The firm's total head count last year was 615, a 5.1 percent drop from 2011. The decline in total head count drove a 5.3 percent increase in revenue per lawyer to $1.1 million. Blair says the firm is now projecting that its total head count will remain flat in 2013.
One of the most significant news items to come out of the firm's litigation department early this year was President Barack Obama's nomination of former U.S. attorney and white-collar litigation superstar Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Blair noted that the firm is "incredibly proud" of White, but dismissed any suggestion that the firm's litigation practice might suffer as a result of the departure. "I am not minimizing Mary Jo's contributions," he says. "She is one of the best lawyers and one of the best-known lawyers in the country, but we have a terrific lineup of senior practitioners in [the litigation practice]," he adds, referring to a group that includes, among others, senior partners such as former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey, Bruce Yannett, and Paul Berger. (In a recent questionnaire submitted to the Senate Banking Committee, White vowed never to return to Debevoise "as far as can be foreseen," according to The New York Times.)
As for how the firm will fare in 2013, Blair said it was too early to make an informed comment, but that there was "a little more momentum coming into the year." The second half of 2012, he says, was noticeably stronger than the first half in both litigation and corporate work: "To use an overly used phrase, we're cautiously optimistic."
This report is part of The Am Law Daily's early coverage of 2012 financial results of The Am Law 100/200. Click here to see an interactive chart comparing this firm's 2012 finances to those of other Am Law 100 and Second Hundred firms that The Am Law Daily and its sibling publications have reported on to date. Final rankings and full results for The Am Law 100 will be published in The American Lawyer's 2013 issue and on AmericanLawyer.com. The Am Law Second Hundred will be published in the June issue.