Debevoise & Plimpton had a successful 2013 on all financial fronts, with gross revenue increasing by 1.9 percent, to $688 million, and profits per equity partner soaring 11.3 percent, to $2.31 million, according to The American Lawyer’s reporting.
Revenue per lawyer, meanwhile, increased 5 percent, to $1.16 million.
“We’re very happy with our results last year, and we are cautiously optimistic about 2014,” says Debevoise presiding partner Michael Blair.
The profit growth, Blair says, stems from the additional revenue as well as “getting the benefit of some of our long-term expense control” programs. Those cutbacks include a several-year hiring freeze on the staff side and real estate savings from subletting space in some offices and moving in London and Paris to cheaper facilities.
Attorney head count fell 3.3 percent to 595, a number Blair says the firm now intends to modestly increase. Debevoise intends to hire 74 new summer associates this year, about 17 percent more than the firm brought on in 2013.
“If you look at our lawyer head count in the last several years, we have brought it down very slightly in order to align supply with demand, basically, and we’ve reached that point where we’re happy with our staffing models,” Blair says.
Blair acknowledges that a slight drop in the number of partners—from 143 to 138—also contributed to increased profits. Among the more notable losses from the firm last year were Mary Jo White and Andrew Ceresney, who both left to join the Securities and Exchange Commission. Meanwhile, some partners retired, Blair says.
Early last year, Debevoise also asked its private client group to leave the firm, becoming the latest example of a broader trend of top-tier firms shedding trusts and estates practices that tend to be more top-heavy and difficult to leverage. A seven-lawyer team from Debevoise landed at Loeb & Loeb last March.
Even with the departure of White, who had been chair of Debevoise’s litigation department until becoming chair of the SEC last year, Blair says the firm’s white-collar group had a banner year.
“Mary Jo was an outstanding partner in every respect, but I think it’s a real testament to the depth and strength of our capability in white-collar regulatory that not- withstanding her departure, they achieved the largest growth in work volume” compared with other firm practices, Blair says.
One firm client heavily in the news last year was JPMorgan Chase & Co., which last November agreed to pay $13 billion in a landmark settlement over risky mortgage securities sold before the financial crisis. Debevoise was on JPMorgan’s settlement team and represented the bank in responding to government investigations, according to American Lawyer reporting. Blair declined to discuss this matter.
Also last year, Debevoise secured declinations for 3M Company in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations. The SEC and Justice declined to bring an FCPA case against 3M Corp. after allegations were made of bid-rigging and bribery in Turkey and beyond.
Debevoise also had strong performances in complex civil litigation, international arbitration and intellectual property, Blair says.
On the litigation front, Debevoise lawyers won a unanimous jury verdict in March for Bristol-Myers Squibb in a $3.4 billion lawsuit brought by generic drug manufacturer Apotex Inc.; won a $3.5 billion bench trial for American Airlines in March as part of the World Trade Center Properties litigation; and secured a $42 million settlement for the NFL in a suit filed by a group of retired players who had sued over the use of their names and likenesses in NFL Films programming, among other cases. The firm’s work from August 2011 to July 2013 earned it top honors in The American Lawyer’s most recent Litigation Department of the Year contest.
On the corporate side, the firm saw strong performances in private equity, including private funds and financial institutions practices, Blair says.
Corporate assignments include advising the special committee of Dell’s board of directors in its $24.9 billion going-private transaction in February 2013; advising U.S. Foods and Clayton Dubilier & Rice in U.S. Foods’ $8.2 billion merger with Sysco Corp. in December; advising EIG Global Energy Partners in its formation of a $6 billion fund specializing in power, energy and energy-related infrastructure investments; and representing American Airlines, as special aircraft counsel, in its restructuring and emergence from bankruptcy in December.
In Europe, Blair says, the market for corporate transactional work has improved slightly but is still challenging. Despite that, the firm is seeing “nice growth” in London litigation, Blair says, and added litigation attorneys in the city last year.
This report is part of The Am Law Daily’s early coverage of 2013 financial results of The Am Law 100/200. Final rankings and full results for The Am Law 100 will be published in The American Lawyer’s May 2014 issue and on AmericanLawyer.com. The Am Law Second Hundred will be published in the June issue.