Three years ago, Fish & Richardson pulled in its horns. The firm eliminated several practice groups, most notably the corporate practice it had been trying to build for about a decade, and closed its three-year old Austin office. “We decided to get back to emphasizing what we’re known for—IP work,” firm chairman and CEO Peter Devlin told sibling publication The National Law Journal back then.
The move appeared to pay off, as revenue per lawyer rose about 10 percent each of the next two years, and profits per equity partner shot up from $1.15 million in 2008 to $1.6 million in 2010.
In 2011, though, Fish has endured the sharpest drop in profits per partner on The Am Law 100, a 10 percent slide, to $1.44 million. Gross revenue was down as well, dropping 1.6 percent, to $377.5 million, and revenue per lawyer fell 0.5 percent, to $1.07 million.
Devlin says the firm is doing fine, and that its lawyers actually billed more hours last year than in 2010. The difference in 2011 was contingency fee revenue. Fish received about $45 million in contingency fees in 2010, according to a person familiar with the firm’s finances, with that number dipping to about $18 million last year.
“Contingent fees by their nature come in as a lump sum when the case is resolved, so even as our inventory of these cases grows steadily, we expect to see fluctuations in revenue and profits as these cases are resolved on different timetables,” Devlin said in an e-mailed statement.
It appears that 2012 is already shaping up as a better year for Fish in the contingency arena. The firm played a leading role in a qui tam case over pharmaceutical marketing that settled in January for $158 million. Fish declined to disclose its share of fees in the case.
The firm isn’t acting as though it’s worried about profits—last year it increased the number of equity partners from 96 to 101, even as 47 Am Law 100 firms trimmed equity partner ranks. And in January, Fish elevated 20 associates to partner, up from 16 last year.