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The moderate growth in attorney hiring experienced over the past year at Philadelphia law firms is on pace with national trends, according to The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of the 250 largest firms in the country. The 14 Philadelphia-based firms on the list averaged a 1.4 percent growth rate, compared to the national figure of 1.5 percent in the latest NLJ 250, which measured the total number of lawyers at firms from Oct. 1, 2003, through Sept. 30, 2004. The national numbers are slightly below the 1.6 percent growth rate of last year, which had been the lowest since 1994. While most Philadelphia firms experienced moderate growth or losses, Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen and Fox Rothschild produced double-digit percentage increases. On the flip side, Dechert and Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll both saw their lawyer counts drop by 6 percent. The Philadelphia firm with the highest ranking on the list was Morgan Lewis & Bockius, which finished ninth, falling a spot from eighth despite growing by 2 percent. With all of the California lawyers acquired from the addition of Brobeck Phleger & Harrison on board for the second straight year, Morgan Lewis only added 25 lawyers to reach 1,221 total. Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, which fell a whopping 43 percent and saw its ranking slip from 132 to 232 last year, was able to hold steady in 2004. The firm finished the year with the same number of attorneys with which it started — 166. The firm fell to 242 in the ranking, but after a few years of declining lawyer counts, Schnader Harrison appears to have stemmed the tide of departures that plagued it. “We’re reaching out to get the right people that fit well in our firm,” Schnader Harrison managing partner Diana Donaldson said. “And our numbers have gone up since October. So yes, I would say it’s a sign that we’re doing well.” At Dechert, the 6 percent drop — from 789 to 742 lawyers — saw the firm dip in the rankings from 30 to 35. But the firm also managed to raise its profits per equity partner numbers to over $1 million for the first time in its history. Dechert chairman Bart Winokur said the drop in attorney numbers is due to a laser-like focus on profitable practice areas. Winokur said the firm spun off its four-partner immigration practice, led by Ronald Klasko, last year and has dwindled down the ranks of its trusts and estates practice through attrition. But Winokur said the trusts and estates practice will still be a viable practice for the firm, as it still retains important clients. He said the firm will focus on its key areas, such as products liability litigation and real estate finance. Dechert’s attorney losses registered most in the associate ranks, but Winokur said that will soon change as the firm has a much larger summer class slated to arrive in 2005 than it did this year. He added that while offices like Philadelphia incurred a net loss, New York grew in numbers. In 2005, Winokur said he expects the firm to continue to focus on its core practice areas and to grow geographically in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Charlotte. Ballard Spahr chairman Arthur Makadon said the firm has experienced its share of attrition in several offices, but he does not view it as statistically significant. Makadon said he expects the firm to add some significant lateral hires in the new year. Wolf Block’s 15 percent increase was largely due to its merger with 53-attorney Brach Eichler Rosenberg Silver Bernstein Hammer & Gladstone of Roseland, N.J., in late 2003. Wolf Block cracked the 300-attorney barrier for the first time, moving from 261 attorneys to 301 attorneys. Without the Brach Eichler union, though, Wolf Block would have lost more than 10 lawyers. Wolf Block chairman Mark Alderman said the firm lost several partners, including three of the four name partners from one of its other recent lateral additions, Mann Ungar Spector & Labovitz — the litigation boutique that merged its practice into Wolf Block in the summer of 2002. Ted Mann and Judah Labovitz both retired, while Barry Ungar decided to leave to focus on an alternative dispute resolution practice. That leaves Larry Spector as the only partner left from that acquisition. In 2005, Alderman said the firm will focus on expanding in New York and New Jersey and opening a law office in Washington, D.C. The firm has a government relations ancillary business there but has yet to open law offices. Alderman, who was chairman of John Kerry’s presidential campaign in Pennsylvania, said the Democrat’s loss in last month’s election changes plans a bit for Washington. “If Kerry had won, certain opportunities would have arisen in Washington that won’t now,” Alderman said. “But we still plan to move ahead and pursue it as a legal market.” Fox Rothschild increased its lawyer count by 11 percent, in the process adding 31 lawyers to reach 283. But unlike Wolf Block, the growth was purely organic. Managing partner Abraham Reich said the firm has grown in markets such as Atlantic City, Princeton and Pittsburgh while experiencing modest growth in its suburban Philadelphia sites, Wilmington and Center City. Reich said the firm will also explore the possibility of opening offices in new markets in 2005. According to the NLJ, associate staffing dropped by 3.5 percent nationally, only the third time in the survey’s 27-year history that the number of associates dipped in consecutive years. Consultants told the magazine that the broad message from the survey is that law firms are managing their businesses carefully. With the economy slowly recovering from the 2001 problems, firms are staffing conservatively to keep up profits. The number of non-equity partners rose 9.2 percent, on top of last year’s 10.5 percent increase. By comparison, the number of all partners grew by 4.2 percent. The number of “other” attorneys, which includes counsel, increased by 21 percent. And use of contract attorneys rose by a staggering 55 percent.

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