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Although 10 New York firms dominated The Am Law 100′s revenue-per-lawyer and profits-per-partner rankings in the 90s, plenty of other firms were nipping at their heels, and nine firms in particular stood out from the pack. But which of these firms are true contenders for entry into the elite, and which are overhyped contenders? Here’s a tip sheet on the past performance and future prospects of each. New York’s Dewey Ballantine has steadily improved its numbers over the second half of the decade by keeping a tight rein on costs and increasing leverage. Under managing partner Everett Jassy, the firm now has expansion on its mind. It hopes to open a Silicon Valley office this summer (provided it can nail down space in the Bay Area’s hot real estate market). It also plans to expand its London and Warsaw offices to keep up with a wave of M&A privatization work. Under the hard-nosed management of New York partner Wesley Howell, Jr., Los Angeles’s Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has focused intently on the bottom line. A few years ago, the firm went through some unsettling cutbacks, when roughly 30 partners were encouraged to leave. Profits per partner have shown strong increases in recent years, bringing the firm within striking range of the $1 million mark. Last year Gibson Dunn beat California rival Latham & Watkins for the number seven spot on our Corporate Scorecard M&A list, and was the second-highest-ranking non-New York firm (behind Palo Alto, Calif.’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati). From a corner office overlooking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Browns’ new un-domed stadium, Patrick McCartan has built Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue into a global juggernaut. With 22 offices — the most recent two opening in Shanghai and Madrid — the firm has followed its traditional mighty clientele base as it has spread around the globe. In the U.S., litigation remains a profit center; the firm has R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the ongoing smoking battles and is prepared to battle until the last butt is stubbed out. The firm’s power is famously centralized, and the partnership culture is egalitarian and relatively content. Profits and revenue per partner have grown steadily, though they remain a notch or two below the best; slicing the equity partner ranks or finally breaking into the choicest investment banking work would propel the firm into the elite circle. Boosted by strong litigation, intellectual property, and transactions practices, Kirkland & Ellis consistently logs profits per partner that are significantly higher than those of its Chicago neighbors. This year is no exception: At $1.3 million, the firm’s profits-per-partner figure is almost twice that of its nearest Windy City competitors. Kirkland is known for its slow growth, promoting lawyers internally, and generally avoiding lateral hires and mergers. The firm’s leverage — 237 partners to 362 associates — is high, and the firm is known for its entrepreneurial culture. Kirkland’s famed commercial litigation practice boasts jury trial wins for General Motors Corporation; Motorola, Inc.; and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, among others. New York’s Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy posts strong numbers, but has seen more ups and downs than many of its elite New York competitors. It has lost some good partners in recent years to other firms, and suffered a black eye in the Bucyrus Erie Inc. bankruptcy matter last year, when an ex-partner was convicted of failing to disclose a conflict to the bankruptcy court. (The firm ended up settling a malpractice action stemming from the case.) Some of Milbank’s recent financial gains have come from increased associate-partner leverage, which is now 3:1. In the end, its brand name, while strong, doesn’t carry the same cachet as firms like Davis Polk & Wardwell and Sullivan & Cromwell. Fire-tested by tough years in the early 1990s and newly invigorated by the leadership of San Francisco-based Robert Dell, Los Angeles’s Latham & Watkins was one of only three firms outside New York to bring in average profits per partner of more than $1 million last year. (The others were Kirkland & Ellis and Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.) Long known for its egalitarian culture, Latham has grown rapidly in the last few years, to more than 1,000 lawyers; Dell expects to add another 500 in the next few years. Latham has an enviable client base, with the best investment banking relationships on the West Coast. Dell has also made the New Economy a priority; the firm has a thriving Silicon Valley office, and just added former Cooley Goodward biotech specialist Alan Mendelson to its ranks. New York’s Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison has said good-bye to the anarchy of the 395-lawyer firm’s committee system and ubiquitous 10-partner “Committee on Committees.” Last year the firm tapped Alfred Youngwood as managing partner and put him in charge of implementing the firm’s long-range plans. At the forefront: expansion in London. Youngwood isn’t in talks with any U.K. firms right now but hasn’t ruled out a transatlantic merger. With international offices in Paris, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, as well as an office in Washington, D.C., Youngwood says, it’s unlikely that the firm will add U.S. offices in the near future, even in Silicon Valley. The firm made a splash in January, when it brought on litigator Theodore Wells, who made his reputation representing former Cabinet members Mike Espy and Ray Donovan, from Roseland, New Jersey’s Lowenstein Sandler. Wells managed former U.S. senator Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign; he was Paul Weiss’s first partner-level lateral litigation hire in three decades. Ten years ago, New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges had a near-monopoly on megabankruptcies and some notable strengths in M&A, antitrust, and litigation. Nonetheless, says managing partner Steve Dannhauser, “we needed to broaden our base of business.” After ten years of key lateral hires, strategic office openings, and determined cross-selling, Weil Gotshal is poised to follow in the track of Skadden and Latham and become a big and diversified firm that’s also highly profitable. These days, Dannhauser says, “we’re as balanced as anyone on the street. That will help us in a good economy and a bad economy.” Weil, Gotshal was early to open an office in Silicon Valley, but the firm’s intellectual property expertise hasn’t yet translated into much New Economy market share. It has also branched into Europe, cherry-picking partners from major London firms and expanding its London operation to 100 lawyers. How does Willkie Farr & Gallagher do it? Year after year, profits per partner top all but a dozen or so New York firms, yet it’s hard to name a single big deal or suit the firm handled. Longtime chairman Jack Nussbaum jokes that the appellation the firm once received in an American Lawyer profile — The Stealth Firm — still applies. Willkie’s client base hasn’t changed much in the last decade, and its strengths remain M&A (Nussbaum’s specialty), real estate, and bankruptcy. Says Nussbaum: “We’re not high-profile, but we’re always there on the M&A charts.” The firm has no aggressive plans: Its 70-lawyer Paris office has been a big success, but Willkie doesn’t intend any blockbuster European mergers, nor does it plan to establish a presence in Silicon Valley anytime soon. Nussbaum says he wishes Willkie’s ties to investment banks were stronger, but he’s not losing sleep over the future of his firm. And if he can keep sending his partners home with a million bucks apiece, he must be doing something right. Related Chart: The Am Law 100 Am Law 100 Index

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