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If you spend any time scanning the magazine racks at the local bookstore or supermarket line, one thing stands out. We like numbers and we like lists. We seem to really, really like them. Two Hundred Top Doctors. Twenty Great Vacation Getaways. Ten Stocks You Need to Buy Now. To borrow that old Jerry Seinfeld joke, it’s going to get to the point where we’ll be counting off most-despised dictators. (1. Stalin, 2. Pol Pot, etc.) Legal Times isn’t immune. Not only do we have our annual LT 150, but we also have our annual salary survey, the D.C. 20, among other things. But while lists can make things more accessible, it’s easy sometimes to miss the point. Numbers are meaningless without context. And adding 30 lawyers just to say you’re larger than the firm down the block isn’t any managing partner’s idea of a winning growth strategy. We don’t necessarily judge the performance of companies by their size and, in fact, sometimes it’s the inverse. (Just ask the folks who are going to be pink-slipped at Ford Motor Co.) So why should we judge law firms that way? But these numbers have provided us with some stories to tell. For instance, one unmistakable trend we noticed was the growth shown by California-based firms such as Latham & Watkins. (Although, of course, firms these days deny having such geographic roots.) Growing in D.C. as an outsider has always been tricky business, so it’s notable when a group of comers signal that they have apparently figured out a successful plan for long-term growth here — and it doesn’t always simply involve merging with other firms. It’s also interesting to note that much of the growth during the past year occurred in firms with offices in the 100- to 150-lawyer range, suggesting perhaps that there’s perhaps still some life left in the midsize model. 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 rankings are organized according to an office’s total number of lawyers as of April 1, 2006, 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 2006. The research gets presented in a main chart of the 150 largest law offices, as well as on a poster included with the paper issue. The 150 largest offices ranged from the 496-lawyer D.C. office of WilmerHale (again our number one) to four firms that tied for No. 149 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 I suggested earlier, 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 not only in the United States, but increasingly around the globe. Instead, we list the city in which each firm was founded, believing that this information remains relevant to a firm’s culture and that it at least gives us a hint of from where the journey began.
James Oliphant is editor in chief of Legal Times and can be contacted at [email protected].

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