Managing partner Louise Wells says the corpo-rate department saw an uptick in M&A activity.
Managing partner Louise Wells says the corpo-rate department saw an uptick in M&A activity. (John Disney/Staff)

Correction appended

Morris Manning & Martin chalked up another strong year in 2013, following the 2012 rebound of the real estate practice, a key area for the firm.

Managing partner Louise Wells said the corporate, litigation and real estate departments had good years across the board. Business was more consistent, she said. “It was not as concentrated in a few partners.”

The $9 million revenue increase matched that of 2012, which was a rebound year after a flat 2011. That boosted revenue per lawyer by $35,000 to $710,000 and profit per equity partner by $30,000 to $920,000.

Wells told the Daily Report last year that 2012 was the year that real estate came back. The real estate and real estate financing practices “continued to show a robust recovery” in 2013, she said. Transactional work increased across all real estate areas: multifamily, industrial, retail and hospitality and even residential, which had been especially hard-hit by the recession.

Wells said the real estate capital markets practice registered the biggest jump in activity. The group handled the biggest deal for the firm last year: advising longtime client Cole Real Estate Investments on its October sale to another real estate investment trust, American Realty Capital Properties, for $11.2 billion. The deal created the largest net lease REITs in the country, valued at $21.5 billion.

Twenty-seven lawyers worked on the deal for Cole, which Morris Manning has represented since its inception a decade ago. Earlier in the year the firm advised Cole Credit Property Trust III Inc., which acquired Cole Holdings Corp, changed its name to Cole Real Estate Investments and then in June completed an IPO and gained a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

The corporate department saw an uptick in M&A activity, in both the number and size of transactions, Wells said.

Morris Manning represented Atlanta-based electronic payments processor Online Resources Corp. in its $126.6 million acquisition by ACI Worldwide, another electronic payments processor based in Naples, Fla.

It advised another tech client, Voxeo, in its $150 million acquisition by Aspect Software, a Phoenix-based provider of call centers and other back-office operations to companies. Voxeo, based in Orlando, provides interactive voice response services.

The firm’s international trade team in Washington picked up a new client, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM). Morris Manning was one of 15 international firms that MOFCOM selected for a panel to advise it on trade agreements and cross-border dispute resolution.

Morris Manning added a net of six lawyers to its head count, for a total of 148. The equity roster ranks were stable, increasing by one lawyer to 41, and the firm added a net of two nonequity partners, for 36.

Tax partner Chuck Beaudrot left after 30 years at Morris Manning to become the inaugural judge for the newly established Georgia Tax Tribunal. Morris Manning recruited two tax partners to replace him—Anthony Boggs from Bryan Cave and Gerald Thomas from Ernst & Young.

The firm added four lateral partners in all. It recruited employee benefits practitioner Edmund Emerson from Bryan Cave and, in Washington, litigator Bonny Rothell joined from Krooth & Altman.

The Washington office, which has 18 lawyers, is a growth priority for Morris Manning, Wells said. It moved in July into new and larger digs at 1401 I St. N.W., taking a full floor of space (26,000 square feet).

Morris Manning updated its look last year, completing a wholesale restack and redesign of its headquarters at Atlanta Financial Center that transformed it from a traditionally decorated law office with dark wood paneling and hunt prints to a light-filled, contemporary space. The new Washington office was designed with a similarly modern look.

Bucking the current trend, Morris Manning hired 12 associates fresh out of law school last year—a far greater number than peer firms of comparable size. (By comparison, King & Spalding, which has six times as many lawyers, hired 13 first-year associates last year.)

“We made the decision two years ago to invest in the future of our firm,” Wells said. The first-years are distributed across all practice areas, from employment to health care to real estate, she said. “Everyone had to commit.”

The conventional wisdom is that clients are not willing to pay for the services of inexperienced new lawyers, but Wells said because of rate pressures, there is plenty of work for them once they are trained.

“We’re not billing for them until they’re valued,” she said.

For the first six months, the firm does not expect any income from the new hires. “That’s on our nickel,” Wells said. “It used to be you’d take a first-year to a deposition and bill for their time. Now you take them, but you don’t bill for it.”

Morris Manning can afford the investment because it is managed conservatively and has no long-term debt, she said.

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction. Litigator Bonny Roghell was corrected to Bonnie Rothell.