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It was fun while it lasted. In 2007, The Am Law 100-the top-grossing law firms in the United States-finished the best sustained growth spurt since The American Lawyer began tracking firm financials in 1984. For the first time, the firms showed five consecutive years of better-than-average growth in both revenue per lawyer, the key measure of law firm financial success, and profits per partner, the metric that has turned law firm managers into contortionists. How good was this run? Since 2003, average RPL has increased by $205,000. Before that, it took the firms ten years, from 1992 to 2002, to improve that much. The relative gain in profits was even more impressive. Since 2003, PPP has jumped by $438,000, to an average of $1.3 million. It took the Am Law 100 firms 15 years, from 1987 to 2002, to make a similar gain. This Law Firm Golden Age has been fueled by surging demand for high-end legal services and unrelenting annual rate hikes. Partners reaped the benefits of hard work-and of pulling up the ladder behind them. Stoking these gains has been a dramatic slowdown in the naming of new equity partners. Since 2001, the growth in equity partners has been above the 21-year annual average of 3.2 percent only once, in 2003. Last year the average equity partnership grew by 2.6 percent, or almost five partners. Even in these bountiful times, five was a big number. Thirty-seven firms shrunk their equity partnerships. Four held them flat. And eight increased them by one or two. A handful of firms managed to lose partners and PPP. Notable in that category are Dickstein Shapiro; Heller Ehrman; and Akin Gump (which benefited from a contingency in 2006). Other highlights from the Am Law 100 report:

 

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