BuckleySandler. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)
BuckleySandler, a financial services litigation and regulatory-focused firm based in Washington, D.C., is facing a test over the next four years.
The swell of litigation that followed the financial crisis is subsiding, and the fate of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key area of focus for the firm, isn’t clear under President Donald Trump.
But BuckleySandler chair Andy Sandler said the firm is adapting and has grown its core business in the past year, even as it adds expertise in white-collar and transactional work. “Every morning when I wake up, I think about concentration risk, and I spend the day working to build the firm within financial services and build the white-collar practice. I think the business of law is coming in our direction,” Sandler said. “Clients want subject-matter experts.”
BuckleySandler’s core revenue from standard billing grew by about 7 percent in 2016, Sandler said, but the firm received no payouts from contingency matters last year. Those types of engagements pumped the firm’s revenues and profits in the previous two years.
Using that information, the firm earned an estimated $132 million in gross revenue in 2016, or $936,000 per lawyer. (BuckleySandler does not publicly disclose its financial results to ALM.)
In 2014 and 2015, gross revenue reached $155 million and $145.5 million, respectively, including fees related to a $554 million Navajo Nation settlement with the U.S. government and the IndyMac Bancorp Inc. bankruptcy. The income was so good at BuckleySandler, all employees at the firm received bonuses twice in 2014.
Sandler said he expects at least one significant contingency matter to lift the firm again in 2017.
“We grew really, really fast. Now what we’re trying to do is stabilize our head count while adding key expertise,” he said. The firm, which was founded in 2009 when Sandler split off from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and joined forces with D.C. boutique Buckley Kolar, reported having 141 full-time lawyers last year. It’s been about that size since 2013.
That new expertise could help offset any decreases the firm sees in CFPB-related business, Sandler said. Fair lending investigations by the federal government may diminish, too, but fraud litigation may not, he said.
“I think the [bank] regulatory and financial transactions practice will really fuel growth next year,” Sandler added. “We’re broadening the range of the work we do in financial services,” including by representing technology companies and banks and defending companies facing state attorney general probes.
Sandler also bets that clients that still have CFPB legal needs will seek out BuckleySandler if other firms retreat from that practice. For clients, he said, “the heat’s not going down.”
With a partnership that now includes about 21 equity partners, or about 60 percent of all partners, the firm’s profits per equity partner for 2016 came in around $2.48 million. That makes it the most profitable D.C.-based law firm in the Am Law 200, using data from 2015 rankings.
Changing Partner Mix
Last year, BuckleySandler made additions to the partnership, had a well-known partner involved in one of the year’s most incendiary political situations, and coped with the death of white-collar partner Samuel Buffone, who initiated BuckleySandler’s involvement in the Navajo Nation case. He died from cancer in April at age 68.
“It was devastating. He was beloved by his partners, beloved by associates. He was a very significant leader of the firm and had been on the executive committee since joining us in 2010. Sam was very much the heart and soul of the firm,” Sandler said.
Also last year, Douglas Gansler, a former Maryland attorney general who joined the firm in late 2014, was hired by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office after Kathleen Kane, the then-AG who was sentenced last October to prison time for perjury and abuse of her office, sought an independent investigation of judicial branch emails. The state ultimately settled with BuckleySandler for a $1.4 million legal fee bill, which was $400,000 less than the firm had billed for email review work. Sandler declined to comment on the Pennsylvania matter.
BuckleySandler also handled multistate attorney general cases including the mortgage servicing, home lending and hospitality industries, Sandler said, though he declined to name clients.
White-collar attorney Preston Burton, who represented Monica Lewinsky and the high-end escort known as the D.C. Madam, joined the firm in June. Heather Russell, formerly a top in-house counsel at Bank of New York Mellon and Fifth Third Bancorp, also joined the firm to lead a financial technology and bank regulations practice.
This January BuckleySandler added another partner, Daniel Stipano, from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
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