LeClairRyan reported a nearly 14 percent decline in gross revenue for 2018, as the firm continues to reshape itself in the wake of a joint venture with alternative legal services provider UnitedLex.
Revenue at LeClairRyan was down 13.9 percent from 2017, continuing a slide that began in 2015, and the equity partnership shrank by more than 27 percent last year amid broader head count declines.
Three weeks ago the firm created a new leadership position, elevating the head of its national litigation practice, Connecticut-based Elizabeth Acee, to the role of president of the firm.
And on Tuesday it announced that partners Morgan Campbell and H. Paul Efstratis would serve as co-leaders of the firm’s national products liability and transportation practice team, in Alexandria, Virginia, and San Francisco, respectively.
The pair are taking over from Thomas Regan, who was named as Acee’s replacement as the head of the firm’s litigation department. Acee, meanwhile, now shares senior executive duties with LeClairRyan’s chief executive officer, C. Erik Gustafson, who has led the firm since 2016 from Alexandria. (The firm has no designated headquarters but was founded in Richmond, Virginia, in 1998.)
“The products liability and transportation team is an integral team to our litigation department—it is the largest of practice area teams,” said Regan, who joined the firm in 2008 from Day Pitney. “Our goal with that group is to continue its growth and continue its growth in the right direction, making sure that we are aligned with our clients.”
Acee did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the firm’s financial performance, but the recent personnel changes come after a year of continuing revenue losses, according to figures submitted by the firm for The American Lawyer’s annual law firm financial rankings.
LeClairRyan’s gross revenue fell to $122 million in 2018 from $142 million the year prior, marking the fourth-straight year of revenue declines since the firm reported taking in $163 million in 2015. Revenue per lawyer also fell 4.9 percent last year to $448,000. (The firm did not report profits per equity partner for 2018.)
Attorney head count declined by close to 10 percent, to 273 lawyers last year from 302 in 2017, and the firm’s equity partner ranks dropped 27.4 percent to 90 partners from 124 the year prior.
Among these losses were workers’ compensation partner Asher Labendz who joined Goldberg Segalla in New York, as well as the three-partner team John Hutchins, Chris Wiech and Janine Anthony Bowen, who decamped for Baker & Hostetler early last year, effectively shuttering LeClairRyan’s office in that city.
The departures have continued this year. In January 18-lawyer group, including 13 partners, left in Boston to join Atlanta-based Freeman Mathis & Gary.
Also in January, a group of five intellectual property lawyers in Rochester, New York, left LeClairRyan to launch a new office in the city for Pepper Hamilton, which has since bolted on 12 more attorneys from the firm.
In Williamsburg, Virginia, a group of four LeClairRyan attorneys made the jump to Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani this month.
LeClairRyan also lost a four-attorney team, including two partners, to Baltimore-based Whiteford Taylor Preston’s Richmond, Virginia office, which was founded last year by longtime LeClairRyan partner Vernon Inge.
Whiteford Taylor Preston confirmed the addition of two more LeClairRyan partners this week to its budding office. D. Shane Smith and Grant Grayson are joining as a partner and senior counsel, respectively.
And on Monday, LeClairRyan’s real estate industry team leader, Stephen Romine, joined Am Law 200 firm Williams Mullen as a partner in its finance and real estate section in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia.
“I think change is hard not just for the firm but for the people in it, and some of the change that we’ve experienced with departures has been a misalignment of practices or people with the direction that the firm is going,” Regan said.
In June 2018, LeClairRyan partnered with alternative legal services provider UnitedLex to launch ULX Partners LLC, a joint operation that outsources nonlegal operations for law firms for a minority equity stake in the venture.
The venture is part of LeClairRyan’s strategy to embody “law firm 2.0,” Regan said.
Clients are looking for legal work that is more innovative and more aligned with their business interests, but is still on par with the high-quality they associate with the “typical Cravath hourly model,” he said.
Incorporating more nonlawyer professionals, focusing on process management and handling legal work through alternative fees is how law firms and clients will interact going forward, Regan added.
“So our law firm 2.0 model is designed to align ourselves with the direction that the legal industry is going in, and we anticipate will allow us to thrive in the upcoming years and decades,” Regan said.
While the firm has seen several departures in recent weeks, Regan pointed out that the firm has also added a number of partners in its intellectual property and labor and employment practices that he said are aligned with the firm’s new direction, including a patent prosecution group in Sacramento.
“The folks who have joined us, particularly over the course of the last two years, they share our vision and they share our belief in where the industry is going and what we can do as a law firm to aid our clients in moving into the next generation of law firm,” Regan said.