Managing partner Richard Hays: “We’re seeing a lot of good gains in some areas we’ve focused on.” (John Disney/Staff)
Alston & Bird had a flat 2013 after posting significant gains in revenue and net income in 2012.
Revenue declined by $11 million to $675 million and net income dropped by $2 million or 0.8 percent to $243.5 million. The slight decline in net income plus a net of three additional equity partners (for 146) pushed down average profit per equity partner by $50,000 (-2.9 percent) to $1,665,000.
Alston managing partner Richard Hays called 2013 a good year. “I view it in the context of our longer-range planning. We did a good job of sustaining the significant gains we made over the past five years.”
The firm’s revenue has increased 22.2 percent and net income has increased 76.3 percent since 2008. During that time, Hays said, the demand for legal services has been “flat or negative.”
Hays noted that the firm’s revenue per lawyer increased by $5,000 last year, to $855,000. Alston reported a net decrease of 16 lawyers from 2012, for an average lawyer head count of 789.
“We’re seeing a lot of good gains in some of the areas we’ve focused on. There are still headwinds. There are still a lot of challenges out there,” Hays said.
“So much of running a big firm comes down to the practice mix—anticipating where demand will be and making sure we have the talent in the right place,” he added.
Alston’s finance, intellectual property litigation and tax-related practices continued to grow, Hays said, adding that between 150 and 200 of the firm’s lawyers are wholly engaged in IP-related matters. Privacy and data security along with electronic payments and unclaimed property law are newer areas that have been busy.
The firm recruited 12 lateral partners last year, Hays said, including six partners for its capital markets practice from Dentons. The six (five in New York and one, Stephen Ornstein, in Washington) were part of a group of 100 lawyers who joined Denton’s predecessor firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal from Thacher Proffitt & Wood, which closed its doors at the end of 2008 after the structured finance market collapsed.
Alston has carved out a niche defending officers and directors of failed banks in liability litigation. It is defending the nine officers and directors of Buckhead Community Bank, which failed in 2009, in an FDIC suit before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia regarding their level of personal liability.
It represented Dell Inc. in shareholder litigation arising from Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners’ leveraged buyout of the computer maker. They took the company private in October in a deal valued at $24.9 billion. A new lateral partner, Charles Cox, who joined from Latham & Watkins at the beginning of 2013, participated in the matter.
Another longtime client, Nokia, kept Alston busy in disputes over mobile device patents. The Finnish mobile phone maker intervened in a patent infringement battle between Apple and Samsung, asking for appellate review of Apple’s failed bid for a sales ban against Samsung, and then pushed for sanctions against Samsung over confidential licensing agreement documents between Apple and Nokia that were improperly filed in a public court docket.
One big matter concluded last year: Alston’s work as lead defense counsel for Toyota over economic damages claims in its long-running unintended acceleration litigation. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved Toyota’s $1.6 billion class settlement in July. Alston did not represent Toyota in separate personal injury claims. Lisa Gilford, who co-led Alston’s work for Toyota (with Cari Dawson) and co-chaired the product liability practice, in August left for the Los Angeles office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Skadden also had represented Toyota in the unintended acceleration cases.
In Georgia the firm defended King America Finishing in a high-profile fish kill case on the Ogeechee River. Homeowners, environmental groups and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division alleged that illegal discharge from King America’s furniture finishing plant in Screven County killed 38,000 fish over a 77-mile stretch of the Ogeechee River in 2011.
King America has paid confidential settlements to about 60 homeowners downstream of the plant, a $1 million penalty to the GEPD, a $2.5 million settlement to the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and made about $3 million in upgrades to its plants.
Alston partner Dave Patton departed in July to become general counsel and vice president of business strategy for longtime client Mohawk Industries. Karol Mason, an Atlanta partner in the public finance practice, returned to the Barack Obama administration as assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs.
Alston completed a massive restack and renovation of its Atlanta headquarters in November, moving personnel from Atlantic Center Plaza across the street to One Atlantic Center. The firm carried out an updated, contemporary redesign of the space, which now occupies floors 34 to 50 (except for the 39th floor, whose tenant is Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore).
The Pro Bono Institute recognized Alston with the 2013 John H. Pickering Award—its highest honor—for sustained and wide-ranging commitment to pro bono work. The Pro Bono Institute cited Alston’s advocacy for immigrants’ rights in Washington and Atlanta, where it helped to found the Georgia Asylum & Immigration Network, and its establishment of the Truancy Intervention Project, which trains attorney and nonattorney volunteers to serve as advocates for children at risk for school failure.
Alston receptionists have logged calls for Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s Georgia Senior Legal Hotline since 2009 and its lawyers took on Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation’s wills project in 2011 after the nonprofit lost funding for it.