DEFYING GRAVITY
In a year when most firms trimmed lawyers, a few posted big gains. How did they manage to beat the odds?

ROPES & GRAY

Ropes & Gray posted the largest uptick in headcount in 2010 among NLJ 250 firms, increasing 21.6% to 1,062. While the increase comes in part because of associates returning from one-year fellowships with nonprofits and other legal service providers, the firm has also actively pursued laterals.

The lawyers who joined the Boston firm included Jeffrey Greenblatt, a former tax partner in Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s Chicago office; Michael McFalls, a former Jones Day antitrust partner in Washington; and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, who served as assistant to the solicitor general before joining the firm as chairman of the appellate practice.

The firm has also been working to expand its international offices. In January, it hired Maurice Allen and Michael Goetz from White & Case to open a London office, which has since grown to include eight partners and 16 associates. Ropes & Gray is also awaiting approval from the Chinese government to open a Shanghai office. — Jeff Jeffrey

CHADBOURNE & PARKE

Chadbourne & Parke saw a rebound in 2010. The firm added 58 lawyers, a 15% increase to 444 lawyers. The growth was especially good news because the firm was coming off a 13% decline in 2009. Charles O’Neill, Chadbourne’s managing partner, said that the firm decided to “think long-term” and take advantage of a hot lateral market.

O’Neill said the firm has been working to expand its intellectual property practice for the past two years and made a series of additions in 2010. In May, it hired Stephen Manetta, who had overseen the intellectual property department of General Electric Co.’s oil and gas division; and Rajappan Balagopal, the former vice president of technology and intellectual property management for The Walt Disney Co.

Chadbourne also has made additions to its transactional, corporate and litigation practices. In March, the firm brought on four former Howrey dispute resolution partners for its London office. — J.J.

BAKER HOSTETLER

Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion fraud was bad news for the investors he bilked, but the scam created opportunity for Baker Hostetler and partner Irving Picard — the court-appointed trustee handling the liquidation of Madoff’s investment firm. The law firm, which grew by 13% this year, has been awarded nearly $100 million in fees from the matter so far, and the Madoff engagement helped fuel Baker Hostetler’s growth during the past year, said executive partner Steve Kestner.

“That engagement has been great for us,” he said. The growth to 687 attorneys hasn’t been limited to any one of the firm’s 11 locations, Kestner said, but it has been particularly robust in the New York office — which opened in 2001 with three lawyers and now is home to 130. Many of the recently added attorneys in New York, who came from a variety of firms and government agencies, are staffing the Madoff matter, Kestner said.

Baker Hostetler also opened a Chicago office in November of 2009, which now has 10 attorneys. It’s added another seven attorneys in Washington. — Karen Sloan

DOWNSIZED
More than half of the NLJ 250 slashed headcount this year. Here’s a look at three firms that led the list of lawyer cuts.

BUTZEL LONG

The Motor City’s economic woes have been a challenge for Detroit-based Butzel Long, which saw its attorney headcount shrink by more than 17.7% in the past year. “Obviously, the Detroit economy has been very hard hit in the past couple of years,” said Butzel Long President Justin Klimko. “We had some of the normal attrition in the past year, but because of the market conditions, we didn’t replace them.”

Butzel Long has a strong client base among auto suppliers, and the firm decided to hold off on hiring while awaiting the full impact of the General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC bankruptcies to its clients. Relatively few suppliers have closed up since then and the industry fared better than expected, Klimko said. Florida was also a factor in the firm’s declining attorney headcount. The eight attorneys in its Palm Beach and Boca Raton offices joined Akerman Senterfitt in June. Those attorneys wanted a larger platform in Florida, but Butzel Long was not prepared to invest more resources in the state, Klimko said. — K.S.

FISH & RICHARDSON

For Fish & Richardson, a down year in 2010 was a chance to get back to its intellectual property roots. Peter Devlin, the firm’s president and chief executive officer, said that during the past several years the firm had launched corporate, media and entertainment practices that went beyond the firm’s “core strengths” and was having trouble competing in those areas. Devlin said that the firm decided to cut those practices entirely. As a result of those cuts, Fish & Richardson shed 73 lawyers from its ranks, dropping from 412 lawyers to 339. That decrease marks a 17.7% decline from 2009.

The firm cut more than 20 partners and associates from its corporate practice alone. Devlin said the firm has refocused its hiring efforts on intellectual property and litigation, particularly in the biotech, false claims, communications and pharmaceutical arenas.

“We had to take a hard look at how we provide services and what those services are. We decided to get back to emphasizing what we’re known for — IP work,” Devlin said. — J.J.

HOWREY

It was open season on Howrey lawyers this year. The Washington firm lost 88 attorneys, falling 12.7% to 607 lawyers. Those departures included more than 60 partners. Howrey’s drop in headcount comes after the firm reported sharp declines in revenue and profits per equity partner. According to The American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal, Howrey’s gross revenue fell by 16.3% to $480 million in 2009. Profits per partner plunged 35% to $846,053.

Robert Ruyak, managing partner and chief executive officer of Howrey, said that most of the departures were part of a restructuring effort designed to refocus on the firm’s three core practices: antitrust, intellectual property and global litigation.

“We took a very close look at the businesses we were in and made cuts in areas where we weren’t as profitable as we should be,” Ruyak said. Howrey brought in law firm consultants from the Zeughauser Group and business experts from Georgetown University to evaluate the firm’s revenue and axed lawyers who weren’t making the grade. The lawyers targeted for reductions had practices that focused on patent and trademark prosecution, environmental and some insurance recovery matters. — J.J.

 

See the full results of the 2010 NLJ 250 survey.