Headcount increased at the nation’s largest law firms last year, but a lot of the growth came from U.S. firms adding foreign lawyers through international mergers, according to the National Law Journal’s annual NLJ 350 survey.
Headcount at the 350 firms rose 3.9 percent last year, after growth of just 1.1. percent in 2012. The NLJ, a Daily Report affiliate, has summarized its findings for those who prefer animated Godzilla and cat .gifs to statistics. (Really, it’s fun.)
Three of the 10 largest firms merged with non-U.S. firms. Fulbright & Jaworski combined with London’s Norton Rose to create Norton Rose Fulbright, which debuted at No. 3 on the list with 3,537 lawyers. The U.S. firm SNR Denton combined with Salans in Europe and Fraser Milner Casgrain in Canada to form Dentons, which was No. 4 with 2,503 lawyers.
A combination with Australian firm Middletons pushed No. 8-ranked K&L Gates’ headcount up 15 percent to 1,975 lawyers.
Collectively the NLJ 350 employed 146,618 lawyers. Factoring out the 4,412 foreign lawyers who joined their ranks from international mergers, the firms’ year-over-year headcount increased just 0.8 percent. Even so, that was an improvement over the 4 percent decline in headcount in 2009, the year panic-stricken firms laid off lawyers in droves in response to the financial crisis and evaporation of work.
Baker & McKenzie remained the nation’s most populous firm with 4,087 lawyers. DLA Piper, which has an Atlanta office, was No. 2 with 3,962 lawyers.
Amid flat demand in the U.S., American firms are increasingly looking to global mergers to boost revenue—and, they hope, profit. Atlanta-based McKenna, Long & Aldridge (No. 82) decided not to join the Dentons megafirm last year, however, preferring to hang on to its own identity.
Africa is the next big thing for global megafirms such as Baker & McKenzie, Dentons and Norton Rose, but this trend has not yet hit the Atlanta market.
Atlanta-based firms in the NLJ 350 have focused more on expanding into California than internationally, but several have opened outposts in Europe and China. McKenna, for example, bulked up considerably when it acquired a California firm in 2012 and opened a Seoul outpost last year. The firm is applying to China for approval to open a Shanghai office.
Labor and employment firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart (No. 59) opened a London office last year with four lawyers.
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan (No. 115) gained its first international offices in March when it combined with a 10-lawyer London boutique with a small Geneva office.
Jones Day (No. 5), which has a sizeable Atlanta office, secured a license for a Singapore office last year, which now has 25 lawyers, according to its website.
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton (No. 72) opened a Shanghai office in 2012 and Troutman Sanders (No. 71) opened one that year in Beijing—its third in China. King & Spalding (No. 32) opened a Singapore office in 2010.
Alston & Bird (No. 45) has yet to open an Asia office. It opened its first and still only international office, a Brussels outpost, in 2011.
The NLJ took special note of Hall Booth Smith, which came in at No. 337 on the list. It was a surprise to Alex Booth, who said partners still view the group “as a small firm.”