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The partner classes announced by large San Francisco Bay Area law firms paint a multi-hued picture of the legal industry, setting and nearing record size in some cases and not even approaching historical levels at some of the strongest financial performers. On the high end, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison elevated a record 24 associates to partner, in a year the firm also rode its success in serving the technology industry to revenues of $476 million, the highest among Bay Area-based firms. Brobeck was followed closely by Morrison & Foerster, which added 21 partners, just shy of its record elevation of 22 in 1990. The 14 local firms surveyed qualify for inclusion in AmLaw 200, The American Lawyer‘s annual financial survey of the nation’s richest law firms. Many point to their burgeoning corporate practices as the top breeding grounds for new partners, with litigation and intellectual property departments also making strong contributions. And even labor and employment specialist Littler Mendelson, which saw just a modest increase in revenues — $139 million, from $130 million a year ago — elevated 12 partners, three times the four named in 2000. But despite increased revenues across the board, five of the firms named fewer than or the same number of partners they did last year. And even at the firms that named big partner classes, the hiring in recent years has far outpaced the elevation of partners, ensuring that growing profits are being shared by a smaller percentage of the firms’ lawyers. For instance, corporate powerhouse Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati pulled in a staggering $450 million in revenues in 2000, but elevated 14 partners, far fewer than the 23 who got the nod last year. This occurred while the firm was on a hiring streak, building its ranks by 180 attorneys since just last May. While a Wilson Sonsini manager played down the significance of the partnership class size, she indicated that recent expansion in hiring could create larger classes in the future. “We have never had any artificial numbers or quotas as to the size of the partnership class. We evaluate each on their merits, but we see strong candidates coming up,” Donna Petkanics, the firm’s managing partner of operations, said on announcing the new class. Indeed, in the unlikely event the large firms retain most of the associates they have hired in the recent past, there could be partner classes of unprecedented size in several years. Brobeck, for instance, has added more than 300 attorneys since August 1998, and has plans of adding hundreds more in the coming year. During the same period, Cooley Godward grew from 419 to 687 lawyers. Morrison & Foerster’s growth has exploded, its attorney rolls growing from 780 in May of 2000 to 1,020 as of Jan. 1, with 65 attorneys added in the month of October alone.

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