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The method and the madness behind this year’s survey of the top-grossing law offices in the D.C. area. Where’s Wiley? Close readers of Legal Times‘ annual survey of the D.C. area’s highest-grossing law offices may notice the absence of Wiley Rein & Fielding. The telecommunications firm, home to former Federal Communications Commission chairman and name partner Richard Wiley, fell off the top 20 list for the first time in years, but not entirely by its own doing. Indeed, Wiley Rein seems to have been a victim of others’ success. The firm’s experience in the D.C. 20 this year is testament to why financial surveys of this kind must be seen as a sort of Polaroid — a snapshot of performance during a given time period. Certain images are crisp and discernible, while others, more fuzzy and on the fringes, may be just as important to the composition of the whole picture. The Wiley Rein experience also goes a long way in explaining the approach we took this year in writing about our findings. Rather than make broad pronouncements about the D.C. legal marketplace, we chose to delve into the specific factors that produced each firm’s revenue and profit figures, trying to understand the forces behind each firm’s financial performance in 2001. Among the questions we asked: Which practice areas produced the biggest returns? Which had to be trimmed back because of lack of client demand? Which practice groups and lawyers were being poached? Which firms were lumbering under the weight of boom-priced leases? Which firms were hurting-or at least took a hit to what would have been a more impressive bottom line — because tech clients went belly up? Which clients and deals were fueling a firm’s performance? Who was reaping premium fees — and competitors’ grudging admiration, if not envy — for having moved early and aggressively to rebuild decidedly blunt-edged practices like bankruptcy and litigation? As we did the past two years, we again calculated the gross revenue generated only by a firm’s metro D.C. offices — even if the firm is based elsewhere and has offices in other cities. If a firm had more than one office in the D.C. area, we combined the revenues of those offices to reflect total revenue for this region. We defined the D.C. metro area as the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland. Head counts of total lawyers and partners are as of Aug. 31, 2001, and include only full-time equivalent positions. The data in this section are informed by reporting. We started by asking the firms. In all cases, we labored to procure and verify the numbers. The results of our survey can be found in the charts. The forces behind the numbers can be found in profiles of each of the top 20 firms. But you won’t find Wiley Rein among the profiled — not that firm partners are complaining. Wiley Rein’s $670,000 in profits per equity partner bested the numbers of nine of the firms that made the final cut. Its $530,000 in revenue per lawyer and its $40 million in net operating income beat out four of the firms in the top 20. In short, Wiley Rein was efficient, maximizing profits for its shareholders by containing costs. Wiley Rein’s shortcoming was its gross revenue. It pulled in a healthy $112 million in the D.C. area in 2001, $6 million, or roughly 6 percent, more than it did the year before. But it was not enough to beat back more impressive surges by Crowell & Moring and Latham & Watkins. Crowell, which had fallen off the D.C. 20 last year, saw a phenomenal 67 percent jump in gross revenue, leapfrogging to $149 million in the D.C. area and back into the top 20. And Latham & Watkins, a newcomer to the list, added $20 million to its D.C. gross revenue in 2001. It surged to $117 million and, in the process, bumped Wiley Rein off the D.C. 20 chart. — The Editors of Legal Times

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