Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s Washington, D.C. offices at 1200 17th St. NW. December 8, 2014. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL. (Diego M. Radzinschi)
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman saw improvement in several key financial metrics in 2016. But new chairman David Dekker said that despite a stronger performance than in 2015, lack of bench depth could still be hindering the firm’s revenue growth in some areas.
Gross revenue increased 3 percent, to $573.5 million, and revenue per lawyer climbed 2.2 percent, to $950,000. With 145 equity partners in 2016—seven fewer than the year before, a decrease of 4.6 percent—profits per partner rose 2.5 percent, to nearly $1.22 million.
Dekker, who began his term as chairman in January, said litigation helped bolster Pillsbury’s growth in 2016. Though he declined to discuss specific matters because he did not have permission from Pillsbury clients, Dekker said that Pillsbury’s insurance recovery group pulled in more revenue than usual, with the firm’s international arbitration practice also having a strong year.
On the transactional side, the firm represented Japan’s NTT Data Inc. on its $3 billion sale to Dell Inc. last year, as well as Salt Lake City-based inContact Inc. on its $940 million sale to Israeli data security and surveillance company Nice Systems Ltd.
When Pillsbury announced in late 2015 that Dekker would be succeeding former chairman James Rishwain Jr., Dekker told The Recorder that he wanted to prioritize building a deeper bench, because not doing so previously had held the firm back from capturing work from its larger clients. (Energy giant Chevron Corp. is one such company that rival firms have pried from Pillsbury’s grasp in recent years.)
Dekker said this week that bolstering Pillsbury’s ranks has been achieved in some areas, such as the firm’s tax practice, which added two partners in 2016. But in the corporate and finance markets, where the firm saw several notable departures to Winston & Strawn in 2015, Dekker still thinks that Pillsbury could be providing a broader range of services.
“I would say we’ve made progress on that front, but I believe we have more work to do,” said Dekker, a litigator based in Washington, D.C.
Dekker named technology and emerging companies as another practice area that Pillsbury hopes to expand into in the immediate future, although he said he did not think that the firm lacked bench depth in that practice. Pillsbury already has a strong tech practice in Silicon Valley, he said, but the tech markets in San Diego, Northern Virginia and Austin, Texas, have now grown enough that it makes sense for the firm to invest further in them.
Pillsbury’s overall head count was up 1.2 percent in 2016, to 605 lawyers, and Dekker attributed the dip in the number of equity partners to the fact that about 15 partners retired last year, a higher number than usual, he said. Some partners also left for other firms, including digital currency experts Marco Santori and Patrick Murck and trademark practice leader Bobby Ghajar, who all decamped for Cooley.
But Pillsbury also made some additions in 2016. The firm opened its third office in China by launching in Hong Kong a year ago this month after hiring Clyde & Co aviation finance head Paul Jebely. Dekker said the firm will likely add lawyers in Hong Kong this year, but Pillsbury does not plan on becoming a significant capital markets player in the region. The firm added McKool Smith bankruptcy partner Hugh Ray III last fall in Houston, where he practiced with his father, former Andrews Kurth bankruptcy chair Hugh Ray.
In December, Pillsbury bolstered its New York office with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Daniel Budofsky, a former Davis Polk & Wardwell partner who left the latter in early 2014 to head the derivatives and commodities group at now-defunct Bingham McCutchen. Pillsbury’s New York office also picked up Paul Shapses, a partner and chair of the hospitality group at Herrick, Feinstein, in January. Pillsbury opened an office in Miami in February after recruiting six lawyers from Boies Schiller Flexner.
Dekker said he doesn’t foresee his firm adding more domestic offices this year, though he wouldn’t rule out doing so if there was a good strategic reason. Dekker also said he doesn’t foresee a merger in Pillsbury’s immediate future. In late 2015, shortly after Dekker prepared to step into a firm leadership role, Pillsbury broke off merger talks with Chadbourne & Parke, which last month announced it would combine with global legal giant Norton Rose Fulbright. Pillsbury is not currently in tie-up talks with any other firm, nor does it have any merger-related nondisclosure agreements, Dekker said.
“I think most major law firms are considering it as a way to build out their platforms,” he added. “It’s something that we would not shut our eyes to.”