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When the D.C. office of Atlanta’s Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy lost its entire 33-lawyer international trade group to Sidley Austin Brown & Wood last year, the firm saw its local head count plunge 30 percent in one swoop, the biggest decline in this year’s Legal Times 100 survey. But it was home-grown Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn that shed the most lawyers overall. Last year, the office was the 11th largest in the District, but after losing 38 lawyers during the survey period of April 1, 2002, to April 1, 2003, it fell to the 21st spot. Among those who departed were former managing partner Christopher “Kit” Smith and 11 other lawyers who joined the D.C. office of Chicago-based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. D.C.-based Covington & Burling fell one spot to No. 4 in the rankings after a 14-lawyer drop, leaving the office with 350 attorneys. D.C. partner Mitchell Dolin says the decline reflects “the normal timing of arrivals and departures.” Other offices dropped out of the top 100 altogether. Hunton & Williams’ McLean, Va., office shrank from 50 lawyers to 47, sending the firm from No. 90 to No. 101. Tied with Hunton was Schmeltzer, Aptaker & Shepard, which had finished 95th in 2002. Minneapolis-based Dorsey & Whitney, which ranked 86th last year with 53 lawyers, dropped to No. 102, while Seyfarth Shaw fell to No. 110 after holding the 95th spot last year. Cole, Raywid & Braverman came in at No. 112 after a 12 percent drop in head count. Overall, 40 firms in the top 100 saw their numbers decline, compared with 46 in 2002 and 36 in 2001. LOSS ASSESSMENT The reasons for the losses, of course, vary from firm to firm, but the most common explanations include the departure of individual or groups of lawyers to rival firms, layoffs, attrition, and scaled-back hiring. Also, the slow economy continues to put a damper on the corporate and mergers and acquisitions practices at firms across the board, as well as depressing telecom work at some offices. Powell, Goldstein stands as the year’s most spectacular victim of lateral poaching. When the office’s international trade group, led by partner Daniel Price, made its exit to Sidley in May 2002, Price cited the need “to be with a larger firm that had numerous foreign offices and had a presence in financial markets.” Sidley has offices in England, China, Japan, and Singapore, while Powell, Goldstein had one outpost, in Geneva. Sidley is also more profitable. In 2002, the firm posted average profits per partner of $815,000, compared with $390,000 at Powell, Goldstein, according to The American Lawyer. Powell, Goldstein managing partner Alan Parver acknowledges that losing the 33-lawyer group was a setback. But he says the office, which now stands at 77 lawyers, is focusing on strengthening core practice areas, initiating new groups, and reviving other practices. “We’re certainly not going to try to re-create what we had,” he says, noting that health care, tax, government contracts, and litigation remain strong. In addition, the firm recently launched a logistics practice to represent manufacturing clients. The firm is also looking to beef up its antitrust practice locally. In June 2003 (outside the survey period), Powell, Goldstein lost one antitrust partner and three associates to the D.C. office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. Another midsize office that saw its head count shrink is McKenna, Long & Aldridge, the new firm formed from a 2002 merger between Atlanta-based Long Aldridge & Norman and D.C.’s McKenna & Cuneo. After the June 2002 merger, the office had 111 lawyers, but since then, the work force fell to 98, a nearly 12 percent drop. The office head count is now roughly the same as it was at McKenna & Cuneo before the merger. “We did lose a few people,” says D.C. co-managing partner Thomas Papson. But he blames the decline on lawyers who left the firm because of post-merger business and legal conflicts. Papson says the firm also experienced a slowdown in its corporate transactional practice, which he attributes to the glum economy. Despite the setbacks, he insists the firm is ready to grow again. The firm is now looking to strengthen such practice areas as litigation, intellectual property, and regulatory work. “We really think we can build on the platform the merger gave us,” Papson says. The firm recently expanded its litigation group with the addition of an eight-lawyer group from Atlanta’s Arnall Golden Gregory. The group, which will work in the District and Atlanta, is led by Randolph Evans, former general counsel to the Georgia Republican Party. Papson asserts further growth is on the horizon. “We will be in a position to announce some incoming laterals and practice groups by the end of the year,” he says. Growth was also on the minds of other firms which saw a fall off in their offices this year. The D.C. office of Tampa-based Holland & Knight registered a 10 percent drop, with the loss of 19 lawyers, thinning the firm’s ranks locally to 158. But according to La Fonte Nesbitt, D.C. executive partner, the fall off is incidental and represents the normal attrition rate for the 25th-ranked firm. “[The decline] is not enough to be significant in our minds, certainly,” Nesbitt says. This is the second year Holland & Knight has lost D.C. lawyers; in 2002, the office head count dropped 7 percent, from 191 to 177. Still, Nesbitt assures that next year will bring growth. “Wherever we end up in the end of 2003, we will have more lawyers in the end of 2004,” he says. The D.C. office of Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman also saw its second drop in a row. The firm fell from No. 19 to No. 23 in the rankings after it lost attorneys via attrition and layoffs due to the decline in the telecom and corporate sectors. The office also lost its four-lawyer labor and employment group to Drinker, Biddle & Reath’s D.C. office at the end of 2002. But Swidler managing partner Barry Direnfeld says the firm is growing in other areas, including litigation, government affairs, insurance, and bankruptcy. And the energy group is seeing more work in the FERC regulatory area, Direnfeld says. Still, Direnfeld does not predict dramatic changes over the next year. “I think we’ll probably see flat to modest growth,” he says. Like Swidler Berlin, Philadelphia’s Dechert showed a decline in its work force due to layoffs. Dechert, registering a 15 percent decrease, released nine associates from the D.C. office’s financial services practice group at the end of last year. The office went from 98 lawyers to 83. Since then, the practice has been “maintaining,” says D.C. managing partner Sander Bieber. But the firm has expanded three other areas: intellectual property, securities enforcement, and broker-dealer practices. TALENT HUNT Bieber says Dechert will continue to look for opportunities to expand and seek out the “finest talent” in these three areas. Just recently, the D.C. office welcomed Stuart Kaswell, former senior vice president and general counsel for the Securities Industry Association, to lead the firm’s broker-dealer and financial institutions practice. Tied with Dechert on the top 100 list at No. 49 is the D.C. office of London-based Clifford Chance. The highest-grossing firm in the world, Clifford chance lost 8 lawyers in the District last year, leaving the outpost with 83 attorneys. D.C. managing partner Leiv Blad blames the economy for the firm’s lackluster showing. The M&A market was “in a virtual depression,” and some of the practices related to mergers and acquisitions suffered, Blad says. While the office had no layoffs, Blad says the firm has been conservative in its hiring. “We’ve tried to find the right size, given the economic environment,” he says. For the near future, Clifford Chance hopes for a 5 percent to 10 percent growth in its key areas: securities and commercial litigation, patent litigation, antitrust, project finance, and bank regulatory work, Blad says. However, the antitrust group suffered a blow earlier this month when practice group leader Steven Newborn and three other partners left for the D.C. office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The slowdown in corporate work hurt the D.C. office of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae as well. The D.C. office was attempting to develop a corporate practice just when business took a downturn. “We had some work, we tried to build on it and then the bottom fell out,” says co-managing office partner Brian O’Neill. The office had 71 lawyers last year, but some left the firm when the corporate work failed to materialize. As of April 1, 58 lawyers were in the firm’s D.C. office. Since then, LeBoeuf has continued to rely on its other practice areas: energy, insurance-related work, and litigation. “We are also building upon a small but excellent legislative group,” O’Neill says. For the future, the firm, wants to work on improving its local profile while maintaining its conservative approach to growth. “I would expect to add some bodies, but I don’t foresee any significant change,” O’Neill says. Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo also fell in the rankings for the second year in a row, showing a loss of 11 lawyers, a 17 percent decline. Cherie Kiser, one of the firm’s managing directors, blames the decline on attrition and lawyers taking advantage of opportunities in government. “People will cycle in and then cycle out of the government and come back,” Kiser says. The D.C. office recently grabbed Karen Knutson, former deputy assistant to the vice president for domestic policy, for its lobbying practice with the firm’s consulting affiliate, ML Strategies. Yet former Mintz Levin lawyers Thomas Krattenmaker and Susan McDonald left the firm for the Federal Trade Commission, while David Shapiro joined the Justice Department. “Hopefully, these people will cycle back out later and rejoin us,” Kiser says.

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