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GROWTH PATTERN If you thought Northern Virginia was “so three years ago,” think again. At least if you’re Morrison & Foerster. The San Francisco-based high-tech firm’s McLean office hit the Legal Times 150 for the first time this year. By hiring 10 new attorneys, the office catapulted to No. 120 with 39 attorneys. The office — which is still growing — reached the list in large part through the acquisition of Shaw Pittman‘s corporate group and a handful of new patent attorneys. “We’re seeing a revived market,” says Brian Busey, the office’s managing partner. While Morrison & Foerster was the only Virginia office to jump onto the list this year, four other D.C. law offices managed to climb onto the list as well. Los Angeles-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton grew by 28 percent to 32 lawyers. The biggest driver, says office managing partner Edward Schiff: work stemming from the firm’s media and entertainment practices in New York and Los Angeles. And the firm added attorneys in litigation and government contracts as well. “We are trying to be steady,” says Schiff. Local Rockville, Md.-based Stein, Sperling, Bennett, DeJong, Driscoll & Greenfeig hit the list for the first time since it was founded with three partners 26 years ago. The increase was nothing dramatic — just the addition of one new associate. And while they’re bullish on growth, don’t expect any grand changes. “We have not brought in lateral partners and don’t intend to do so,” says Millard Bennett, the firm’s managing partner. Two other noteworthy additions: Boston-based Sullivan & Worcester and New York’s Hughes Hubbard & Reed, whose 30-attorney offices put them on the list this year.
BROAD JUMPERS In football, it’s said that three yards and a cloud of dust will get the job done. But other teams will opt for the big play. This year, Holland & Knight went for a Hail Mary when it came to hiring. The Tampa, Fla.-based firm saw its ranks inside the Beltway jump 40 percent to 225 attorneys. The office didn’t add new practice areas, so much as expand in its signature groups: real estate, intellectual property, and international trade. What’s more, roughly half of the 64 new attorneys were partners — an indicator that the firm is in it for the long haul. “We’ve had good solid growth across the board,” says La Fonte Nesbitt, the office’s managing partner. Richmond, Va.-based Hunton & Williams also made a strong showing this year. In D.C., the head count jumped 20 percent to 146 attorneys. Its Tysons Corner, Va., office grew even faster — nearly 40 percent — to 61. The key area of growth for the firm: its energy practice, says Andrea Bear Field, managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office. Among the other noteworthy jumps: Latham & Watkins and King & Spalding, whose nearly 20 percent increases put them among the city’s fastest growers. But head count increases have not yet translated into bullish revenue growth for Hunton & Williams and Holland & Knight, according to this year’s list of the 100 highest-grossing firms as ranked by The American Lawyer. So, could their recent hiring spree be overreaching? Says Holland’s Nesbitt, “You’d like to think you are making good, solid acquisitions. Hopefully it will all work out and help the bottom line.”
DECLINING NUMBERS For D.C.’s biggest law firms, losing a couple of attorneys might not mean much more than a loss of possible playing partners on the golf course. But for some of the smaller offices, such a loss can knock them off the Legal Times 150 entirely. That was the case for Thompson Coburn, which lost its toehold (it was No. 149 last year) on the list when two partners left the firm. Indeed, five law firms fell off the list since last year, including Kelley Drye & Warren and the now-defunct Coudert Brothers. To hear those who dropped off tell it, being on the list isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “We don’t feel pressure to compete with the mega-firms,” says Maurissa Turner, marketing director at Wickwire Gavin, which fell off after the departure of three lawyers, including two partners. But the firm, which focuses on construction and government contract law, isn’t giving up growth and says it plans to make up for its drop next year. At Ivins, Phillips & Barker, however, managing partner Eric Fox says the firm is satisfied with its head count, despite a three-year decline. “We are a niche firm,” Fox says. “We are the last surviving, exclusively tax-driven firm in the D.C. area.”
SITTING ON THE TOP SHELF There isn’t much room for movement at the top of the chart, but that didn’t stop Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom from creeping up to No. 8 on this year’s survey. The New York-based powerhouse inched out Jones Day, which fell to No. 13 despite a slight increase in attorneys. While the D.C. legal market saw an average 2.4 percent head count growth, six of the top 10 declined. One particularly large swing was with Steptoe & Johnson, which after jumping 10.6 percent in 2004, fell by 3.9 percent this year. And even as Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (now known as WilmerHale) jumped to the top of the list, it was Skadden that showed the most significant growth among the top 10 firms. But the firm’s 13 percent increase — to a total of 263 attorneys — included only one partner. The cause of the associate hiring spree? Says office managing partner Michael Rogan: an uptick in litigation in white-collar crime, Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement, and consumer fraud.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected]. Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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