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Once upon a time, Morris, Manning & Martin was the little firm that could. Now it’s the bigger firm that has. It premiered in last place in the Daily Dozen’s 1997 rankings — the Atlanta-area list of the top 12 ranking firms — with 83 lawyers churning out $29.5 million in revenue. Now the firm has rocketed up to eighth place, past Arnall Golden & Gregory; Smith, Gambrell & Russell; and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart. The firm’s revenue is $49.5 million and its headcount is 117. But Morris Manning’s rate of growth has slowed as it has grown. Revenue grew 34 percent in 1997, then slowed to 31 percent in 1998 and 29 percent last year. Still, it has consistently had the highest growth in the Daily Dozen. Revenue per lawyer grew $13,502 to $423,077. That dollar growth is on the low end of the Daily Dozen’s mid-range in 1999, and it can’t compete with Morris Manning’s $54,153 growth in 1998. That’s because the firm’s leverage changed, from 2.24 to 2.44, says Managing Partner Robert E. Saudek. “We did a great deal of associate hiring, and they have a much lower hourly rate than partners.” Partners’ profits have been consistently strong. In 1999, they rose an average of about $39,000 to $479,167. And, if the first five months of 2000 are any indication, growth is on its way back up. Saudek says revenue is 40 percent higher compared to the same period in 1999. Here’s a sample of what kept the firm busy last year: Morris Manning lawyers helped Atlanta’s own United Parcel Service turn its signature brown into greenback when the company had a record $5.47 billion initial public offering in November. Partners John C. Yates, Randall W. Johnson and others represented technology company Qtera Corp. in a $3.25 billion acquisition by Nortel Networks. Saudek says the firm also completed eight initial public offerings and was involved in about 50 venture capital deals. Morris Manning lawyers also represented the buyer of the Atlantic Steel property in Midtown, which is to include commercial and residential development and a new bridge over the downtown connector at 17th Street. Though no client represents more than 3 or 4 percent of revenue, Saudek says eight or 10 clients provide the largest amount of work every year. They include the bus company Coach USA, Mitchell’s Formalwear and health-care technology company Infocure. Some big expenses pulled the firm’s profit margin down from 48 percent to 47 percent. Even so, it remained the highest in the ranking, and the firm’s API rose from 1.08 to 1.13. Saudek says expenses included replacing every computer, installing a new billing system, renovating space and buying furniture. The tab was $1.5 million, most spent on the new computers, he says. Brisk hiring also meant the firm paid headhunter fees on about half of 40 lateral hires, according to Jane Schnetzer, the firm’s financial manager. Lawyer growth meant hiring more nonlawyer managers and recruiters-an additional $300,000 in administrative salaries, she says. And there’s no sign of a slowdown. Since Aug. 31, the firm has grown from 117 lawyers to 155.

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