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Maybe companies should take some lessons from their outside counsel. Last year the average gross revenue of Fortune 500 companies declined by 6 percent. But for The Am Law 100 � the richest law firms in the country as ranked by Corporate Counsel‘s parent publication, The American Lawyer � gross revenue jumped by 8.5 percent. In fact, the top firms in the country have outperformed the nation’s biggest companies every year since 1995. Of course, firms did so well partly because clients were footing the bill. Despite the sour economy, most firms succeeded in raising billing rates 3 � 6 percent last year. They also benefited from focusing on higher-margin work, and from cracking down on collections. But firms, remembering the last recession of the early nineties, also planned for the worst in 2002. Managing partners sang the praises of practice area diversification, as their firms relied on countercyclical bankruptcy and reorganization practices, as well as steady incomes from litigation and regulatory work. And expansion took a backseat to cost control. Head counts rose more slowly � The Am Law 100′s rise in revenue was achieved with only a 4.2 percent increase in the number of lawyers. Still, there’s bad news ahead. With little left to cut, 2002′s solution won’t do the trick in 2003. What firms need is a broad-based economic recovery. Then again, so do their clients.

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