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Will it be a brief reign? Probably. But it sure is lucrative being on top. In 2007, Wiley Rein had the highest profits per partner of any firm on the Am Law 200, hitting $4.4 million. In fact, it was the highest profits per partner ever recorded in the two-plus decades that The American Lawyer, a sibling publication of Legal Times, has been collecting financial information about firms. The haul came mainly courtesy of a $245 million contingent fee the firm earned representing NTP Inc. in its patent infringement case against Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry wireless device. That windfall translated into a big year for the partnership � but apparently not the associates. Although bonuses were doled out to all staff members, insiders at the firm say the equity partners kept more than 90 percent of the fee. Former name partner Fred Fielding reportedly earned $6.6 million. Equity partners not involved with the case received roughly $3 million. Beach house on the Chesapeake, anyone? Despite the blowout year, questions about the firm’s future remain. Wiley Rein took at least a temporary hit in February when Fielding, then head of the firm’s litigation practice, left for the White House to work as special counsel to President George W. Bush. He took three litigation lawyers with him. The litigation team suffered another blow in September, when lead partner Barbara Van Gelder left for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Van Gelder’s departure highlighted questions over whether the firm’s practice strengths � communications first and foremost among them � rest too heavily on an aging power center. Name partner Richard Wiley is 73, and other key rainmakers such as insurance partner Thomas Brunner, government contracts partner Rand Allen, and intellectual property partner James Wallace are all north of 60 as well. Then there’s the firm’s midlevel size. At 270 lawyers, with a niche practice and lack of a deep bench, Wiley has the profile that industry consultants typically look for when eyeing takeover candidates. And so Wiley finds itself simultaneously at the mountaintop and at a crossroads.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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