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Everyone wants to pretend that size doesn’t matter. But if that’s true, why do so many firms and their partners seem to obsessively track their competition’s growth spurts? Publicly partners are quick to dismiss a rival’s grab to grow. Privately they concede that they pay strict attention. But the “size-doesn’t-equal-strength” mantra seems to retain its currency in the market. Small and midsize firms build whole marketing models around the idea. The boutique shops say they combine small-firm friendliness with big-firm talent. (A sort of law-firm version of the Ivy League university.) The midsize firms make a similar pitch. Clients won’t get lost in the tall grass, they say. A human scale is maintained and personal relationships retained. And yet . . . law firms keep getting larger. Witness last year’s series of mergers that produced the globe-striding (and tongue-testing) DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. More than 60 percent of the firms on the Legal Times 150 upped their head count last year — compared with less than half of firms the year before. So maybe mass does matter. After all, when firms bleed off lawyers, it is rarely by choice. That principle is illustrated in vivid detail by Legal Times reporter Emma Schwartz’s portrait of Kelley Drye & Warren’s struggle to maintain a beachhead in Washington and Northern Virginia. The firm peaked regionally in 2001, near the tail end of the dot-com boom here, with 70 lawyers. This year, the firm fell off the list of Washington’s largest law offices entirely, as its total head count in the region dropped to 47. In Kelley Drye’s defense, the firm is somewhat of a victim of our accounting methodology. We break down firms based on the size of their individual offices — not in terms of the total number of lawyers they have in the region. So while the combined size of Kelley Drye’s D.C. and Tysons Corner outposts could have been big enough to make the 150 list, measured individually, they were not. From its inception in 1978, Legal Times has conducted regular surveys of attorney head counts. This year, the staff surveyed approximately 250 law offices in the D.C. metropolitan area to compile the information for this annual report. We define the “D.C. metropolitan area” as the District of Columbia; Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland; and Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church in Virginia. The survey forms were sent to firms in the spring and followed up by our reporters, who spent weeks making hundreds of phone calls to gather and fact-check the information. The rankings are organized according to an office’s total number of lawyers as of April 1, 2005, though we also spell out the breakdown between partners and associates. And, to capture anticipated growth, we asked firms how many new associates they expect to add in 2005. The research gets presented in a main chart of the 150 largest law offices, as well as on a poster included with this issue. The 150 largest offices ranged from the 484-lawyer D.C. office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (or, if you prefer its newer moniker, WilmerHale) to four firms that tied for No. 148 with 30 lawyers. Other charts in this issue rank the largest firms in Northern Virginia and in suburban Maryland, as well as firms born and raised in the District and those founded elsewhere. As we’ve done previously, we’ve discarded the association of a firm with a “home office.” We have found that the designation has lost meaning at many firms where management, attorneys, and revenue are scattered among many locations. Instead, we list the city in which each firm was founded — believing that this information often remains relevant to a firm’s culture. — James Oliphant

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