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While the past year resulted in little attorney growth and even a decline for most of the top 10 Washington law offices, D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson has traveled in a different direction. According to the Legal Times 150 survey, 282 lawyers were working in Steptoe’s D.C. office as of April 1, a growth spurt of more than 10 percent from the previous year. Steptoe is the only firm among the 30 largest offices to increase its ranks by more than 20 lawyers. Last year, the Washington firm added 27 lawyers in the District. The firm points to a number of factors contributing to the office’s prolonged expansion, including strategic hiring in specific practice areas; notable firm successes, which include significant court wins; standout stars that have kept the Steptoe name in the public eye; and some auspicious management decisions, such as targeting markets for expanding the firm. “There is a tremendous amount of both cohesion and optimism in this firm right now,” says J.A. “Lon” Bouknight Jr., the firm’s immediate past managing partner, who stepped down in March. Despite an uncertain economy in the past few years, Steptoe has steadily increased its work force. Along with its growth in the past year, the D.C. office expanded by nearly 6 percent, from 241 to 255 lawyers between 2002 and 2003. Firmwide, Steptoe had 381 lawyers as of April 1. Bouknight says the expansion in the office is primarily due to the hiring of a “combination of first-year associates and lateral associates and some lateral counsel.” The firm also snagged lateral partners to supplement targeted practice areas for growth, including intellectual property. And managing partner Roger Warin adds that the firm’s partnership has been stable with few departures. Revenue has also jumped. In 2003, the office produced about $154 million in revenue, compared with $135 million in 2002, according to Legal Times‘ annual survey of law firm earnings. Steptoe’s revenue per lawyer has also increased � from $590,000 in 2002 to $660,000 last year. Warin, who succeeded Bouknight, says the firm’s focus on strengthening the litigation practice and developing an intellectual property practice are part of the reason for the growth. LITIGATION LEADS THE WAY At Steptoe, litigation has long been a core practice, accounting for 65 to 70 percent of the firm’s work, Warin says. Currently, partners J. William Koegel Jr., and Robert Jordan III are representing CACI International, the private defense contractor involved in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. In addition, partners Howard Stahl and Steven Davidson have been representing Motorola in a long-running fraud case relating to a $2 billion loan made to a wealthy Turkish family’s mobile phone company. Last year, the firm was hired to serve as national counsel for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. in asbestos cases around the country. Metropolitan Life received approximately 60,300 asbestos-related claims in 2003, according to a quarterly financial report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “The insurance practice has been a healthy part of the [firm] for at least 10 years,” says Warin, who is also an insurance litigator. “We just want to make it even stronger.” But the firm’s highest-profile cases have emerged from its white collar criminal defense practice. Three years ago, the white collar group consisted of no more than 10 people, Warin says. Soon after, in the wake of several notorious corporate scandals, the firm capitalized on the call for white collar defense lawyers, doubling the number in the group. Steptoe’s white collar defense group has represented executives from the Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc., and the Rite Aid Corp. who are accused of fraud, grand larceny, conspiracy, and other crimes. Consequently, the white collar group has contributed to some of the firm’s well-publicized successes, turning some of its lawyers into near-celebrities, including partner Reid Weingarten. This summer, Weingarten successfully represented Tyco International Ltd. General Counsel Mark Belnick, who was accused of grand larceny, securities fraud, and falsifying business records. Belnick was acquitted of all crimes in July. “There’s nothing like winning,” Warin says. “It puts a spring in people’s steps, and they want to go do it again.” Weingarten is working on an encore in his representation of former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers, who is scheduled for a November trial in New York, on accounting fraud charges. IP EFFORTS Steptoe has also recruited several lawyers to supplement its IP group. The firm snagged Charles Schill from Foley & Lardner’s D.C. office. Schill is known for his expertise in Section 337 litigation, a provision in the Tariff Act specifically designed to resolve intellectual property claims in international trade disputes at the International Trade Commission (ITC). Schill, the “dean of the 337 bar,” as Warin calls him, says the firm’s international trade group, along with the commitment from management to build an intellectual property group, persuaded him to join the firm as a partner. The plan to strengthen its intellectual property group began about two years ago, Bouknight says. In April, the firm supplemented the IP practice with the addition of partner Harold Fox, formerly of Fish & Richardson. William Pecau, previously a partner at defunct IP boutique Pennie & Edmonds, joined the office in 2003. The IP practice, with about 20 lawyers in the D.C. office, is small compared with other firms. Still, Schill says, “The work has been walking in the door ever since we got the group together.” Schill’s presence also adds to the already robust international trade practice. Headed by partner Susan Esserman, the trade practice, which includes exports, litigation at the ITC, and dispute resolution at the World Trade Organization, has grown to 50 lawyers in the District from 45 the previous year, close to 20 percent of the office’s population. In addition, the recent acquisition of a seven-lawyer Brussels office has stimulated more business for the D.C. office, Esserman says. Both Warin and Bouknight say that Steptoe’s current growth phase has resulted from a mix of strategic thinking and plain good luck. “While every other law firm is trying to do the same thing, there’s no predicting with absolute certainty what’s going to happen,” Warin says. For example, unlike many large Washington firms, Steptoe did not open an office in Northern Virginia during the technology boom of the late 1990s. Although the firm engaged in merger discussions with at least one IP firm to establish a Northern Virginia presence, the firm did not follow through on any of those talks and eventually abandoned the project. “In the late 1990s, it looked like a very good thing to be doing,” says Bouknight, who now views the firm’s decision to stay out of Northern Virginia as a fortunate one. It allowed the firm to use its resources elsewhere, such as expanding into London and Brussels and further expanding the D.C. office, Bouknight says. (The firm also has offices in Los Angeles and Phoenix.) David Roll, the firm’s managing partner in the 1990s, attributes the firm’s upsurge to its recent leadership. “Lon, I think, shook the place up. He did some very aggressive things from a financial point of view,” Roll says, referring to such moves as opening the London and Brussels offices and focusing on particular growth areas. “I think that’s what really led to the current spurt.” For the future, the firm leaders plan more of the same, including adding to the litigation group and, especially, the IP group through lateral hiring and recruiting new associates. “What we’ve done with IP, we’d like to continue to do,” Warin says. Along that line, according to the Legal Times 150 survey, the firm says it will hire more than 35 new associates.

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