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CHICAGO � Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal is adding new partners at its fastest clip ever and has added three new offices this year, yet attorney headcount is expanding only slowly toward a 2009 target of more than 1,000 lawyers as some lawyers leave. Despite signing up 20 lateral partners so far this year, the total number of attorneys at the firm has grown by five � to 650 � because some attorneys are exiting as the firm sharpens its strategic focus, the firm’s chairman, Elliott Portnoy, said in a recent interview. Portnoy, who declined to say how many attorneys have left, noted that the firm has added 32 attorneys to the three new offices, located in Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Menlo Park, Calif. The firm, which opened offices in Phoenix and Brussels last year, is attempting to boost annual revenue to $1 billion from its 2006 total of $460 million. “While there have been an unprecedented number of outstanding new attorneys who have joined both new and historic offices, on a net basis the numbers are virtually the same in view of entirely expected voluntary and involuntary departures,” Portnoy said. Ultimately, the firm’s plan anticipates that it must grow to generate the higher profits that will attract top talent. The profit target as announced to partners in the middle of last year is $1.4 million per partner, up from the $825,000 reported by the firm for 2006. In terms of other goals, Portnoy is pleased that the firm’s American Lawyer rankings based on pro bono work and associate satisfaction rose this year. Merger an option Portnoy, who took the firm’s top post from retiring attorney Duane Quaini on March 1, is seeking to expand the firm by adding individual lawyers and small groups or, possibly, through a merger of equals. Three of the practice areas that Sonnenschein has focused on expanding are litigation, corporate and real estate, which are already its three largest groups, Portnoy said. The firm is also looking to build up its health care, patent litigation, insurance, public policy, intellectual property and technology work, he said. Sonnenschein hasn’t eliminated any practice groups. Still, the firm is winnowing attorneys from its ranks as it emphasizes productivity and profitability standards, including billable-hour benchmarks, Portnoy said. “There have been some who looked at the strategic direction and concluded there’s not a fit with their practice or their aspirations,” Portnoy said. “In other instances, it was a decision made by the firm.” Finding quality lateral hires or groups of lawyers can take time, especially amid the current high demand for attorneys, said Chris Percival, a legal recruiter with Chicago Legal Search. Sometimes certain lawyers need to leave the firm before others will come in, she said. As far as mergers, no firm wants to make a premature decision that could go bad, she said. “A lot of times it takes longer than people originally anticipated,” Percival said. A firm can be making progress toward improving its bottom line even though its headcount isn’t growing, she noted.

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