Covington & Burling grew its gross revenue by more than $100 million last year while opening new offices in United Arab Emirates and South Africa.
According to preliminary ALM data, gross revenue jumped nearly 13 percent in 2017, reaching $945.5 million. Profits per partner rose 4.5 percent to more than $1.5 million. Revenue per lawyer increased by less than 1 percent to $1,005,000 as Covington added more than 100 total lawyers, boosting its head count 12.3 percent over 2016.
“When I look at the numbers, we don’t run the firm on these year-over-year numbers,” said Timothy Hester, Covington’s chairman. “Our approach has been to be very distinctive.”
Hester attributed the firm’s financial growth to its geographical footprint and its practice mix, and he said it’s following a long-term growth strategy aimed at addressing clients’ global needs.
On the international front, Covington added offices in Dubai and Johannesburg last year after hiring four partners from Chadbourne & Parke before Chadbourne’s merger with Norton Rose Fulbright. The project finance partners—including Jack Greenwald and Richard Keenan in Dubai and Ben Donovan in South Africa—brought a team of approximately 25 associates and counsel along with them.
Overall, Covington counted nine more equity partners in 2017 than in the previous year. Hester emphasized that the firm is focused on building the younger half of its partnership through internal promotions. The firm has also increased its associates’ starting pay in the last two years.
Among other notable recruits contributing to Covington’s growth last year are two former U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board judges. Peter Chen left the PTAB in 2017 for Covington in California, while Scott Kamholz joined from Foley Hoag in Washington, D.C., after departing the PTAB in 2015.
Covington also added in 2018 Gerald Hodgkins, a longtime Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer, to the firm’s securities litigation and enforcement and white-collar defense and investigations practices in D.C.
Covington’s white-collar practice has handled several prominent cases, and Hester said the practice is at the “top of its game.” The firm guided Takata Corp. to its $1 billion deal with the Justice Department over defective airbags. Covington partner Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general in the Obama administration, also investigated allegations of sexual harassment and workplace hostility at Uber.
Hester touted his firm’s work on several high-profile legal challenges to President Donald Trump’s agenda, including the administration’s stance on transgender troops in the military and so-called sanctuary cities. Covington is also representing the University of California in its suit against the Trump administration’s decision to change the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for the children of immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.
At the same time, Covington’s Robert Kelner represents former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty late last year to lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian ambassador in 2016.
Covington also represented the NFL, a longtime client, in its fight with Colin Kaepernick regarding his collusion grievance with the NFL. Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, took legal action against the league after being unable to find a home with any team following his national anthem protests.
“It’s a complex and it’s a dynamic marketplace for legal services,” Hester said. “We like the trajectory we’re on. We think we’re on the right strategic path as a firm.”