The 200 highest-earning law firms in the world hail from four different continents and brought in collective gross revenues of more than $135.6 billion in 2017. But The American Lawyer’s newly expanded global rankings showed a massive revenue gap between the Global 100 and the Global Second Hundred.
Within the Global 200’s collective total revenue, $29.99 billion came from the Second Hundred. By comparison, the 100 top-grossing firms in the world surpassed $100 billion in combined revenue for the first time in 2017, reaching $105.7 billion, as The American Lawyer reported last month in its Global 100 issue. That means that as a group, the Global 100 earned more than three times as much as their counterparts in the Second Hundred.
This year marks the first time The American Lawyer has expanded its global rankings from 100 to 200, as part of an effort to better encapsulate the financial performance and size of the world’s biggest firms. In light of that expansion, there is no year-over-year comparison to illustrate how the Second Hundred fared compared with the past. But the Global 100 had a strong year of growth overall—the more than $105 billion brought in by those 100 firms constituted an increase of 6.4 percent over the prior year, and was nearly $10 billion more than the Global 100 earned in 2015.
Four members of the Second Hundred landed in that group after falling off the Global 100 in 2017, having posted revenue numbers that came up short of the 6.4 percent average growth rate among the top 100 firms. That group includes No. 101, Williams & Connolly, which was ranked 97th in 2016; No. 103, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, which fell from 98th; No. 105, Crowell & Moring, which fell from 92nd; and No. 109, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, which fell from 89th.
While the top 100 saw more than 40 firms crack the $1 billion mark in annual gross revenue, the Second Hundred remained within a more modest range. The highest earner on the list, Williams & Connolly, posted $425 million in revenue. That narrowly edged out Schulte Roth & Zabel, with $424.1 million, and Kilpatrick Townsend, with $424 million. Overall, a dozen firms earned at least $400 million—all based in the United States except for Spain’s Garrigues, a 1,292-lawyer firm that ranked No. 111, with $403.56 million in gross revenue. No firm on the Second Hundred posted gross revenue below $199 million, the figure put up by No. 200 on the list, Australia’s Corrs Chambers Westgarth.
Those revenue figures came amid a strong transactional market and demand for cybersecurity and data protection work on an international scale, partly in light of the European Union’s adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation. Global investigations practices have also been busy, as companies face enforcement actions from governments in multiple countries, according to internationally focused lawyers and a consultant knowledgeable about the global legal market.
Even with more matters taking on an international aspect, however, the vast majority of law firms across the entire Global 200 call the United States their home. In the Second Hundred, 67 firms are based in the United States, while the other 33 firms on the list are based in Canada, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, China and Korea. That breakdown gives the Second Hundred a higher level of international representation than the Global 100, which comprised 77 U.S.-based firms and had international firms from Australia, Canada, China and Korea, but none based in continental Europe.
Just as the Second Hundred’s total revenues were less than those of the Global 100, average revenue per lawyer among the Second Hundred ($533,849) was just 68 percent of the Global 100’s average RPL ($781,719). The Second Hundred had a wide range in RPL. Fifteen firms—all based in the United States—posted RPL of $1 million or above, with the 163-lawyer Choate Hall & Stewart posting the highest number at $1.45 million. The lowest RPL figure, by contrast, amounted to less than 8 percent of that figure and was posted by the Chinese firm Allbright, whose 3,400 lawyers averaged revenue of $114,242 apiece.
Generally, firms based outside the United States have lower RPL. U.S.-based firms in the Second Hundred averaged $795,409 in RPL, while Canadian firms had the second-highest average RPL of $539,110. Across the Atlantic, the 14 U.K. firms on the list averaged $441,258 in RPL, and a group of eight European firms included in the Second Hundred, hailing from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, averaged $465,418. Australia’s three representatives on the Second Hundred—Clayton Utz; MinterEllison; and Corrs Chambers—brought in an average RPL of $428,314, while the four Chinese firms on the list—Allbright; DeHeng Law Offices; Grandall Law Firm; and JunHe—averaged $218,117. The lone representative from Korea, Bae, Kim & Lee, posted RPL of $391,128.
In terms of head count, the Second Hundred had more than 56,000 lawyers. When added to the Global 100’s total of 135,189 lawyers, that means the top 200 highest-earning firms are made up of a collective 191,364 lawyers—roughly equivalent to the population of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Within the Second Hundred, internationally based firms contributed the most to the total head counts, with the 15 largest firms on the list by head count based outside the United States. That includes the top six firms by head count, which all had more than 1,000 lawyers on staff. Chinese firms—Allbright, with 3,400 lawyers; DeHeng Law Offices, with 2,531 lawyers; and Grandall Law Firm, with 1,920 lawyers—took the top three slots. The head count leaderboard also included Spain’s 1,292-lawyer Garrigues, France’s 1,267-lawyer Fidal, and the United Kingdom’s 1,123-lawyer DAC Beachcroft. The most populous U.S. firm on the Second Hundred list was the labor and employment-focused Jackson Lewis, with 771 lawyers.
On the smaller end of the list, four U.S.-based firms among the highest revenue earners had fewer than 250 lawyers on staff, a group that included the 249-lawyer Wiley Rein; the 223-lawyer Chapman and Cutler; the 190-lawyer Munger, Tolles & Olson; and the 163-lawyer Choate.
The Global 200’s composition is sure to change next year in light of a cross-border merger. In the 2017 rankings, the United Kingdom’s Berwin Leighton Paisner ranked 124th and was considered a separate firm from its recent merger partner, U.S.-based Bryan Cave, at No. 72. The combined firms’ revenue would have ranked 50th on the global list.