Dickinson Wright reported major gains in revenue and profits in fiscal year 2018 compared to the year before, driven largely by demand for intellectual property and general corporate legal work.
Gross revenue for fiscal 2018 reached $237.5 million—a 7.5 percent increase from the $220.9 million reported the year before. Revenue per lawyer rose 5 percent to $527,000 from $502,000, and profits per equity partner increased 7.1 percent to $559,000—up from $522,000 the previous year.
The firm’s PEP rose as the number of equity partners fell 4.6 percent—from 130 to 124. The number of nonequity partners increased from 135 to 143, and the overall head count rose from 440 to 451.
Michael Hammer, CEO of Dickinson Wright, said that the higher profits per equity partner are not simply a function of having fewer equity partners among whom to distribute work.
“Demand for our services, in terms of billable hours, was up significantly. We are pretty happy with the jump in productivity, and that, to us, was the main driver,” Hammer said.
The firm raised rates about 2.2 percent in fiscal 2018, he said.
One of the firm’s strongest-performing practice areas in the past year was IP, an area in which the firm has made a critical investment, Hammer said. Firmwide, Dickinson Wright has 81 IP attorneys, and Hammer said their services have been in great demand in the United States and Canada, particularly in “hard science” sectors such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science. The opening of an office in Silicon Valley in April 2018 helped target the latter sector, in particular.
On the flip side, Hammer noted that the firm’s restructuring practice had a relatively slow year. ”Bankruptcy continues to be down. We can find work in that area, but it’s a little hit-or-miss,” Hammer said.
While the firm is interested in picking up talented laterals, Hammer said that Dickinson Wright has not been in any talks concerning a possible “merger of equals” in the last few years.
“We have been generally looking to grow, where we can maintain our independence and the platform we’ve developed here,” he said. “There isn’t anything in the works in terms of a large merger at this point, though there are a number of discussions with individuals.”
Hammer emphasized Dickinson Wright’s active use of alternative fee arrangements, particularly in IP, where such arrangements often come into play when filing for or upholding a patent for clients before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. When an IP matter escalates to a dispute between two parties over who holds a valid claim, alternative fee arrangements tend not be as widely used.
“When you have two companies fighting about IP, the matter goes out of alternative fee arrangements and becomes billable-hour, high-stakes litigation,” Hammer said.
On the cybersecurity front, Hammer described a firmwide effort to provide attorneys with the tools and software needed to avert and counter any threats to data privacy. Like many if not all large law firms these days, Dickinson Wright takes the matter extremely seriously, he said.