While trimming its overall head count nearly 10 percent in 2012, Winston & Strawn saw its gross revenue rise 0.1 percent, to $755 million, its profits per partner increase 3.5 percent, to $1.49 million, and its revenue per lawyer increase by nearly 10 percent, to $895,000, according to The American Lawyer‘s reporting.
"It was both a rewarding and challenging year," says Winston managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald. "Rewarding because we completed a number of great acquisitions, and we are more efficient." The challenge, Fitzgerald says, came in the form of gross hours that "were pretty flat" and head count reductions that increased the workload for the lawyers who remained. "We asked people to do more with less," he says. As a result, he adds, the firm "improved productivity on a per attorney basis, for both partners and for associates."
Winston’s overall attorney head count fell from 928 to 842 in 2012. While most of the losses came in the associate ranks, the number of nonequity partners also decreased 6.7 percent, from 195 to 182. The equity partnership remained static at 178, though there was a lot of movement in and out of the firm along the way.
All told, Winston made 37 lateral partner hires in 2012, according to Fitzgerald—23 of them from Dewey & LeBoeuf as that now-defunct firm headed toward bankruptcy last May. Leading the group of mostly New York–based former Dewey litigators was prominent sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler. Fitzgerald says that though the Dewey acquisition—which added a total of 70 lawyers to Winston’s ranks—cost the firm in the short term, it "was just a home run for us." The baseball analogy is apt: Kessler’s group has at various times represented the players unions of all four of North America’s major sports leagues and numerous prominent athletes, and also has a significant antitrust, securities, and complex commercial litigation practice. Fitzgerald says the Dewey group made an immediate impact on Winston’s top line by helping to push the percentage of firm revenue tied to litigation from 48 percent in 2011 to 50 percent last year.
As for losses, data on lateral moves compiled by The American Lawyer shows that Winston lost 39 partners between November 1, 2011, and October 31, 2012. In January 2012, for instance, the firm parted ways with a highly regarded Washington, D.C.–based, five-partner international trade group—most of whom joined Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle—largely as a result of increasingly difficult client conflicts, according to both Fitzgerald and Am Law Daily sibling publication The Blog of the Legal Times. The following month, a three-partner construction litigation group departed for various firms. About a dozen partners from other practice groups left the Chicago office, including several financial services partners and a handful of hedge fund–alternative investments partners, who joined Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and DLA Piper, respectively.
Fitzgerald says the drop in the associate ranks was the product of several factors. While insisting that Winston did not make layoffs, he says many first- and second-year associates left the firm "because of reduced demand for junior lawyers." (He declined to provide a precise number.)
"Like many law firms, our clients did not use first- and second-year associates to the extent they have in the past," Fitzgerald says. Winston also offered fewer 2011 summer associates full-time first-year associate positions in 2012 than it has in the past. The firm has traditionally offered positions to about 90 percent of its summer associates, Fitzgerald says. Last year, the proportion of summers receiving offers slid to about 75 percent. The trend is set to continue, as Winston will be taking on far fewer new first-year associates in 2013. "We used to take on 130 or so before the recession," Fitzgerald says. "This year, we’ll have approximately 55 joining us."
Most of the firm’s major practice groups were busier last year than in 2011, according to Fitzgerald. Highlights on the litigation front included the $1 billion verdict George Lombardi won in August for client Monsanto Co. in an intellectual property dispute with E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co. that earned "Litigator of the Week" honors from sibling publication The Am Law Litigation Daily and David Enzminger’s complete defense victory in December on behalf of client Belkin International Inc. in a billion-dollar patent infringement claim filed by Fujitsu Ltd. over patents related to wireless networking technology. Notable transactional assignments included New York partner Jonathan Birenbaum leading a team advising Highstar Capital on its $1.9 billion acquisition of Veolia Environnement SA’s U.S. waste management businesses, as well as the related deal financing.
This report is part of The Am Law Daily’s early coverage of 2012 financial results of The Am Law 100/200. Click here to see an interactive chart comparing this firm’s 2012 finances to those of other Am Law 100 and Second Hundred firms that The Am Law Daily and its sibling publications have reported on to date. Final rankings and full results for The Am Law 100 will be published in The American Lawyer’s 2013 issue and on AmericanLawyer.com. The Am Law Second Hundred will be published in the June issue.