Winston & Strawn’s revenue per lawyer topped $1 million for the first time in 2015, rising 4.6 percent, to $1.015 million. Gross revenue grew 4.2 percent, to $818.5 million. Profits per equity partner increased 7.1 percent, to $1.805 million.
Once again, the Chicago-based firm’s equity partner ranks shrank, falling 7.4 percent, to 146 partners. The size of the equity partnership has declined 27 percent since 2008, getting smaller each year except one when it was unchanged. The number of nonequity partners rose 5.3 percent, to 200. Average compensation to all partners inched up 1.8 percent, to $1.11 million.
The firm’s total lawyer head count remained steady last year at 808, but it still was 13 percent below its high point in 2011.
“It was a solid year but not spectacular,” managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald told The American Lawyer. (In 2014 Winston & Strawn had an extraordinary year, with PPP jumping 19.5 percent.) “We achieved our goal of $1 million in RPL, which is the most important ingredient,” he said. “It shows we’re working hard and for the right clients.”
Fitzgerald said the litigation group remained busy in 2015, as did the firm’s recently enhanced corporate department, which took in a large group from Pillsbury Winthrop last year. The firm added 19 partners from Pillsbury, including Christopher Zochowski, who now co-chairs Winston & Strawn’s M&A and securities practice, and Jay Gould, who co-heads the firm’s financial services group. At the end of last year the firm added Joel Rubinstein, formerly head of McDermott, Will & Emery’s capital markets and securities practice, who brought with him three partners.
Addressing the firm’s shrinking equity partner ranks, Fitzgerald pointed out that Winston & Strawn had a large number of retirements. The firm doesn’t have a mandatory retirement age, but starts reducing partners’ capital at age 66. Fitzgerald noted that the firm is undergoing a “substantial shift” to put younger people in leadership roles, including increasing their numbers on its executive committee and compensation committee.
“A lot of clients want to see a leveraged workforce,” Fitzgerald said. “They want to pay for the judgment of a senior person and then have the work done as efficiently as possible.” To improve efficiency, the firm has increased its ranks of practice attorneys from 19 to 29. These are lawyers employed by the firm who are billed out at lower rates than regular associates and are paid less.
In another generational shift, last September the firm tapped litigator Jeffrey Kessler as co-chairman to serve with Dan Webb, who had been the firm’s sole chairman since 2006. Kessler is representing the NFL Players Association and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the “Deflategate” controversy.
Webb went to trial last year on behalf of corn refiners that accused the sugar industry of engaging in false advertising by suggesting that sugar was more healthful than corn syrup. The case settled on confidential terms after 10 days of trial.
The firm’s financial results include revenue from the firm’s e-discovery practice, which is located in Washington, D.C. “That’s been a very successful operation for us,” said Fitzgerald.