Kansas City, Missouri-based Husch Blackwell confirmed Monday that it is letting go of about 40 lawyers, roughly 4 percent of the Am Law 100 firm’s head count.
The departures are a mix of retirements and “year-end transitions,” the firm said in a statement. No associates are being laid off; strictly partners or counsel positions, according to Husch Blackwell, which in 2012 demoted 25 partners from equity status.
“Husch Blackwell’s leadership continuously evaluates whether the firm’s services match trending market demands and client needs, and the firm periodically increases and decreases capacity across practices as needs dictate,” said the firm in its statement. “Given our firm’s size and scale, these attorney transitions are expected and normal.”
The firm, formed through a major regional merger a decade ago, also noted that it grew net head count by 12 lawyers in the 12 months ending Oct. 30.
For Husch Blackwell, the downsizing comes a year after it reported significant growth thanks to a merger that helped propel the firm into the Am Law 100—it came in at No. 96 in The American Lawyer’s most recent rankings. The performance came a year after Husch Blackwell absorbed Wisconsin-based regional firm Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek.
That merger saw the firm grow revenue by 20 percent in 2016. Husch Blackwell’s head count also grew by more than 25 percent, to 612 lawyers, according to The American Lawyer. The firm’s partnership expanded by 30 percent last year, which pushed down profits per partner by 8 percent from 2015, to $565,000. Revenue per lawyer also dipped by about 3 percent, to $570,000.
Husch Blackwell’s union with Whyte Hirschboek will also give the combined firm its next leader. In August, Husch Blackwell said that former Whyte Hirschboeck CEO Paul Eberle, who currently serves as deputy CEO, will become its new CEO. Eberle is also a nonlawyer, a term that aggrieved some in the administrative ranks of Big Law.
Gregory Smith, Husch Blackwell’s outgoing CEO and current managing partner, said at the time of his firm’s combination with Whyte Hischboeck last year that it “would require an investment.”
“I’m frankly pretty proud of my partners for seeing the long game and being willing to make the investments,” Smith said.
A report earlier this year by ALM Legal Intelligence suggests that it is common for law firms to see some disruption in their partnership following a merger. The analysis of Am Law 200 firms five years after they announced a merger with another Am Law 200 firm showed that 30 percent of firms saw their gross revenue fall, while 73 percent reported gains less than their group of peer firms in profits per partner and revenue per lawyer.
Almost all firms, some 92 percent, saw cost per lawyer increases, despite mergers often being viewed as a way to gain efficiencies. Those cost increases amounted, on average, to a 4 percent reduction in profits per partner.
Husch Blackwell’s bid to trim its ranks comes after the U.S. legal services sector lost 1,100 jobs in October.