X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
When Elliott Portnoy left Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn last year to head up the public law and policy strategies group at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, he discovered he was the 35th lawyer in the Chicago-based firm’s D.C. office. Less than 12 months later, Portnoy had 68 D.C. colleagues, with a steady stream of newcomers arriving regularly. The upsurge at Sonnenschein not only propelled the firm onto Legal Times’ list of the 100 largest law offices in the D.C.-area for the first time, but also resulted in the biggest growth rate — 68 percent — of any local office in the past year. Joining Sonnenschein as a new addition to the top 100 list is the D.C. office of Atlanta-based Alston & Bird, which registered a 40 percent increase in head count, adding 18 lawyers and moving up the list from No. 103 to No. 70. “We’ve really become quite aggressive in the last five or six years,” says Alston’s D.C. partner-in-charge Frank “Rusty” Conner III. Generally, the D.C. offices of out-of-town firms like Sonnenschein and Alston & Bird posted the largest increases in their work forces. The four other new entrants to the top 100 list — Thelen Reid & Priest; Blank Rome; Katten Muchin Zavis Rosenman; and Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe — are also based in other cities. Thelen Reid, headquartered in San Francisco and New York, bumped up its D.C. head count by 32 percent, adding 14 lawyers, while Seattle-based Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds saw a 27 percent jump, turning it into a 62-lawyer office. For out-of-town firms, the presence of the federal government makes the District a stable and attractive market, says Ward Bower, a principal at legal consulting firm Altman Weil. “The federal government spends money when there is a recession, and it spends money when the economy is doing well,” he says. By contrast, most home-grown firms showed negligible or negative growth this year. Hogan & Hartson remains D.C.’s largest office, with 475 lawyers in the firm’s Columbia Square headquarters — an increase of 20 lawyers, or 4 percent, over 2002. Arnold & Porter, close behind with 466 lawyers, also grew by 4 percent, while Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering added just three lawyers, for a total of 363 D.C. lawyers and growth of less than 1 percent. No. 4 Covington & Burling actually shrank by 14 lawyers, to a total of 350 in its D.C. office. Overall, as of April 1, 2003, D.C.’s 100 largest law offices employed a total of 12,249 attorneys, an increase of 3.4 percent, or 182 lawyers, compared with April 1, 2002. TAKING OFF Yet some established D.C. firms, such as Steptoe & Johnson and intellectual property boutique Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, bucked the slow-growth trend. Steptoe saw an increase of 23 lawyers and moved up one spot to become the eighth-largest D.C. office, with 264 lawyers. Sterne, Kessler’s 13 percent growth rate turned it into a 68-lawyer office, the 66th-biggest in town. Perhaps the largest splash was made by Piper Rudnick, which climbed into the top 10 for the first time, after merging with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand last fall. In addition to bolstering existing practice groups, the merger added a handful of new practices: legislative affairs, international trade and litigation, plus a greatly enhanced labor practice. Since then, the office has focused on consolidating the growth and making sure everyone from the two firms works well together, says Jay Epstien, co-managing partner in the D.C. office. The union added 75 lawyers to Piper’s D.C. office, for a total of 243. But neither Piper Rudnick nor any other firm matched the rapid rate of expansion at Sonnenschein. The upsurge in Sonnenschein’s D.C. office was a deliberate move stemming from a formal “strategic plan” developed and mandated by the firm, says Caryl “Cap” Potter III, the office’s managing partner. The currently 64th-ranked office created new practice groups, expanded existing areas, and welcomed high-profile legal talent aboard. “We have targeted the Washington office for growth in specific areas,” says firm chairman Duane Quaini. “With the involvement of Cap’s leadership . . . we have been successful.” The firm established and developed the practice areas Potter describes as the “Washington business”: Food and Drug Administration-related issues, health care, information security and anti-piracy, and lobbying. Within the last year, Sonnenschein snagged 12 Arent Fox lawyers, including Elliott Portnoy and former managing partner Christopher “Kit” Smith. It added eight lawyers to its new health care group and two former Kirkland & Ellis partners to its information security and anti-piracy practice. And the office’s plans for growth continues. As of Sept. 30, the office stood at 75 lawyers, and Potter anticipates adding another 25 to 50 lawyers in the next 12 months. “The goal is to get to 200-plus lawyers in a rational way as quickly as we can,” he says. Sonnenschein was not the only firm to implement a plan to engineer its growth. Alston & Bird developed its own strategy about three and a half years ago to capitalize on the District’s unique talent pool, says D.C. office leader Conner. The D.C. talent Conner refers to includes notable senior government officials such as Dennis Garris, previously the mergers and acquisitions chief for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Corporation Finance Division, and former presidential candidate and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, who joined the firm in early 2003. In recent weeks, the firm brought on a pair of high-ranking Justice Department officials to launch its D.C. litigation group. Ralph Boyd Jr., former assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and his deputy, Robert Driscoll, joined the firm in August, giving the office heightened visibility in its new practice area, Conner says. Along with litigation, the firm added structured finance and international trade practices anchored by two sets of attorneys who left rival firms Shaw Pittman and Kirkland & Ellis, respectively. In addition, the office’s ERISA and health care practices also welcomed more lawyers to their teams. Though the office is rapidly expanding, Conner stresses the purpose of the growth is to focus on issues unique to Washington. “We’re not intending to be a full-service office,” he says. KEEPING BUSY While Alston & Bird’s expansion is due mostly to its new groups and practice areas, Steptoe & Johnson’s growth spurt stems from the office’s time-honored practice areas — litigation, intellectual property, and international trade — that produced substantial work this year for other D.C. firms as well. Steptoe’s litigation group has been busy most notably with its white-collar criminal defense work, led by partner Reid Weingarten. “It’s kind of a who’s who of corporate scandals,” says litigation chairman Roger Warin. The firm is representing executives at scandal-plagued Tyco International Ltd., the Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc., and the Rite Aid Corp. Work also flowed in the employment litigation, commercial litigation, and insurance coverage areas. “I’ve been here 30 years, and the litigation department has never been busier,” Warin says. Intellectual property litigation was also strong. In the last year, Steptoe added three key laterals to its growing IP team — William Pecau, Jeffrey Hsu, and Erik Cherdak. Still, not all areas have been clear winners for Steptoe, a fact firm leaders blame primarily on the struggling economy. “Our corporate practice has not had the rate of growth as our litigation practice,” admits firm chairman J.A. “Lon” Bouknight Jr. But the hard times have also helped some practice groups. Steptoe’s international trade group, for example, had a strong year, says Bouknight, who says a slow economy “makes trade disputes more likely.” Chicago-based Sidley Austin Brown & Wood also understands the importance of an international trade practice. The firm’s D.C. office snagged 33 lawyers — the entire international trade group — from the D.C. office of Atlanta’s Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy in May 2002. The new group accounted for Sidley’s 20 percent growth spurt, increasing the D.C. office to 214 lawyers. “The reality is, we didn’t have much [of an international trade practice] and now we have a lot,” says Sidley’s D.C. managing partner, Carter Phillips. The international trade group also added an intellectual property component to the firm, Phillips says. “[IP] has developed very nicely in the last year,” Phillips says. Indeed, intellectual property has helped keep Sidley, Steptoe, and other D.C. firms brimming with business. Some firms, such as Nixon Peabody, continue to feel the fortunes of a successful IP practice in the District. The firm’s count of 91 D.C. lawyers amounted to a 21 percent increase over the year before. “We’re becoming such a technological society that clients have a greater need for those kinds of services,” says D.C. managing partner Justine Wilcox. Increased intellectual property work led to continued expansion for IP boutique Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox. In fact, Sterne, Kessler managing partner Jorge Goldstein says his firm’s 13 percent growth amounted to an average year in an area that has seen “incredible growth” in the last decade. But Goldstein still shows some surprise at the robust numbers, given the overall economic climate. “IP is sort of immune to the big ups and downs of the economy,” he reasons. Diverse practice areas also helped insulate some firms like Hunton & Williams from the economic slump, says Andrea Bear Field, Hunton’s D.C. managing partner. After showing a slight decrease in 2002, Hunton’s D.C. office rose four places in the rankings to No. 32, with 130 lawyers on board. The firm formed a Food and Drug Administration group, and added lawyers to its litigation, corporate, and administrative groups. While the economy continues to take its toll in some areas, firm leaders remain optimistic about the future. Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton’s D.C. managing partner John Magney says transactional work at his firm is starting to show signs of recovery. “We think that’s on the way back,” says Magney, whose office showed an increase of 13 lawyers in the past year. Sterne, Kessler’s Goldstein agrees with the prognosis for his own firm. “I think things are going to look better in the next two years than in the last two.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.