Seyfarth Shaw (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
Continuing a run of solid financial years, Seyfarth Shaw last year saw gross revenue jump nearly 6 percent in 2016, to $623.5 million, while profits per partner rose nearly 3 percent, to $1.05 million.
The Chicago-founded Am Law 100 firm also added a significant number of lawyers last year. Seyfarth’s head count grew 6.1 percent, to 847, as the firm’s equity partner ranks expanded 3.1 percent, to 198. The results could see Seyfarth bump up a few spots from its No. 58 ranking on last year’s Am Law 100, with two firms who ranked just ahead of it last year, Bryan Cave and Locke Lord, reporting gross revenue just beneath that of Seyfarth in 2016.
Over the past three years the firm has grown revenue by 20 percent and profits per partner by 11 percent, bucking analysts who claim that demand for legal services is flat or falling. Peter Miller, who took over last year as Seyfarth’s chair and managing partner, attributed the results to investments the firm has made over the previous five-plus years in its SeyfarthLean program.
“That investment is coming home to roost to our benefit and our clients’ benefit, and they’re seeing a dollar spent at Seyfarth is a dollar well spent,” Miller said. “And we’re probably capturing a little more market share as a result, which helps us attract good quality people to help strengthen those relationships with clients.”
Miller said he was pleased with the firm’s head count growth, which pushed down Seyfarth’s revenue per lawyer to $735,000, down 0.7 percent from a year ago. The firm saw head count increases in a broad range of practices, including commercial litigation, corporate, employee benefits, labor and employment and real estate, Miller said. In terms of geography, he said the growth took place primarily in Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.
The firm announced last month that it had hired DLA Piper’s Asia employment practice leader, Julia Gorham, to start an office in Hong Kong.
Miller said Seyfarth had success in retaining lawyers—it lost 10 lateral partners, while adding 19 in 2016—because of its ability to pay partners and a willingness to promote associates from within. The firm promoted 14 income partners to equity status at the end of 2015, Miller said.
“We are a very steady firm in terms of returning profit per partner and net income return to the equity partners,” added Miller. “We provide a nice growth path for associates to [become an] income partner and then equity partner. And we’re not too reactionary to the market. We tend to perform pretty well in good times and bad, and I think that steadiness has attracted people to our platform as well.”
Seyfarth grabbed headlines this year with its announcement that it was employing “software robots” to help automate processes that involve transferring data between multiple software programs. It was an outgrowth of SeyfarthLean Consulting, a subsidiary that researches new technologies and helps clients apply them to their work. Miller said that group will continue its research into things like artificial intelligence, but that it had not been retained for any major consulting contracts by legal departments.
Selling project management and budgeting services to in-house departments has become in vogue over the past year, as firms like Davis Wright Tremaine, Bryan Cave and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz compete to share their expertise.
Miller said it was that expertise and Seyfarth’s willingness to invest in streamlined business methods that has helped propel the firm.
“We didn’t flip a switch last year or the year before,” Miller said. “I think [the firm’s financial results] really are the culmination of the effort we put in over the prior five years.”