Midway through a strategic five-year plan, White & Case announced Friday that it had promoted 41 lawyers worldwide to partnership—the largest class in the firm’s 117-year history.
The bumper crop of new partners follows a year in which gross revenue at the 2,039-lawyer firm climbed 10.6 percent to a record-high $1.8 billion in 2017, with profits per partner jumping 10.2 percent to $2.26 million.
The timing is no coincidence, said longtime White & Case partner and executive committee member David Koschik. “The firm is doing really well, and there’s room for more partners, and it’s consistent with our growth strategy to be making partners both internally and laterally,” he said.
Like other big firms, White & Case announced a major reorganization following the 2008 financial crisis and followed a fairly conservative strategy of increasing profitability while keeping head count relatively flat.
But several years later White & Case recalibrated again, choosing to focus on increasing its bench strength on both sides of the Atlantic
In a five-year strategic plan it implemented in 2015, White & Case sought to grow substantially in New York and London, increasing the number of lawyers in each key market to 500 by 2020.
It also focused on specific, targeted growth in its M&A, private equity, capital markets and dispute resolution practices with a keen focus on private equity, financial institutions, technology and oil and gas practices.
“We look at the decisions that we made and the new people joining us and it fits pretty squarely with the strategy that we’ve been executing on now for three-plus years,” said New York-based Koschik, who also heads the firm’s U.S. growth team.
Over 60 percent of the firm’s newest partners are based in the U.S. and London, Koschik noted. And almost all of them work with clients in one of White & Case’s priority industries, where the firm is doubling down on its existing business and working to develop new clients.
“If you were to draw a line, as we have, from where we were to where we are trying to get to in all of the different pillars of the strategy, we’re right on line to achieve those goals,” Koschik said.
“Having said that, it’s a pretty audacious, ambitious set of goals that we took on for ourselves, so there’s a long way to go,” he added.
In New York, the firm has grown from nearly 350 lawyers in 2015 to around 380 lawyers today. In London, it now has around 360 lawyers, thanks in part to 14 lateral hires this year, including this week’s addition of Kirkland & Ellis partner Gilles Teerlinck to its capital markets practice.
But while New York and London are critical markets, they aren’t the only targets for expansion.
“Our goal is to be larger and stronger with more bench strength and depth in the U.S. generally,” Koschik said
Vinson & Elkins oil and gas partner James “Jay” Cuclis, Andrew Kurth Kenyon partner Charlie Ofner, and Saul Daniel, an England-qualified partner who formerly practiced in the firm’s London and Abu Dhabi offices were the first to join its operations in Houston, intended to bolster its oil and gas practice.
Kirkland & Ellis partner Chad McCormick, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner Steven Otillar, Paul Hastings partner Steven Tredennick and King & Spalding’s David Strickland and Jorge Mattamouros all quickly joined the trio in Texas.
In Chicago, following a series of lateral additions from Greenberg Traurig and DLA Piper, White & Case earlier this month added a 13-lawyer group from the Chicago office of national real estate firm Pircher, Nichols & Meeks.
The moves come as some economists warn of a potential recession is on the horizon, but Koschik said that doesn’t mean the firm should bide its time.
By and large, there is almost always work for the best lawyers in most markets and practices even in a recession, he said, and talk of a recession has only reinforced the need to grow internally and laterally with top talent.
“Is it difficult to execute on a growth strategy and plan for a recession at the same time? Absolutely,” Koschik said. “Is that what we’re doing? Yes, and we do that by picking practices and industries and quality people in those practices and industries that we think will weather a recession, because it will come.