The firm reported an increase of 7 percent in revenue, to $781.8 million, and a 10.7 percent rise in net income, to $295.2 million.
The gains boosted revenue per lawyer (RPL) by 3 percent to $962,000. Profit per equity partner (PPP) jumped 6.3 percent to $1,926,000—just shy of the $2 million mark.
Meanwhile Alston added lawyers and opened a San Francisco office, giving the firm nine U.S. offices and 11 locations worldwide.
“It was another year of strong growth. There is a lot of volatility in the [legal] market and in the performance of law firms. We were pleased to see all our core metrics increase for the third consecutive year,” said Alston’s managing partner, Richard Hays.
Alston’s financial gains last year followed increases of 6.2 percent in revenue and 7.9 percent in net income the prior year, as well as a $65,000 increase in PPP to $1.81 million in 2016.
Average annual head count last year increased by 30 lawyers for a total of 812, and the firm expanded its equity partner ranks from 147 to 153 partners. It has 358 partners total.
The San Francisco office launch last March came with high-profile new lawyers, including Michael Agoglia, who’d co-chaired Morrison & Foerster’s financial services litigation team, and a seven-lawyer class action defense team led by Robert “Bo” Phillips Jr. from Reed Smith, where Phillips had co-headed the class action team.
Two other Reed Smith partners came with Phillips: Tom Evans in San Francisco and Kathy Huang in Los Angeles, where Alston has an office.
The American Lawyer included Alston’s recruitment of Agoglia and Phillips in San Francisco in its top 25 lateral moves for 2017.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest there and continuing to look for growth opportunities,” Hays said, adding that in San Francisco the primary practices are in litigation, but Alston plans to diversify into other areas.
The San Francisco location is the third California office for the Atlanta-based firm, including Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Alston’s other offices are in Dallas, New York, Washington, Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina, with outposts in Brussels and Beijing.
Alston added 12 lateral partners in 2017 and nine partners in January 2018. The firm also promoted 21 associates to partner in 2017, more than in the past several years.
“For us, growth always starts at home, investing in our existing people,” Hays said. “We have had a lot of success doing that.”
“But you have to fill gaps, especially when you need to move quickly,” he added. “That’s all been to accelerate growth in existing areas. That’s been our strategy and will continue to be our strategy. We see that paying off.”
All of Alston’s other lateral partner adds last year were in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. In New York, Alex Yanos joined from Hughes Hubbard & Reed to co-chair Alston’s international arbitration practice; bankruptcy specialists Gerard Catalanello and James Vincequerra joined from Duane Morris; and finance partner Paul Hespel joined from Pepper Hamilton. Alston also landed Paul Tanck, who’d chaired the IP group at Chadbourne & Parke (acquired last year by Norton Rose Fulbright), and investment bank deal adviser Stuart Rogers from Credit Suisse.
In Los Angeles this year, environmental litigation partner Jeffrey Dintzer and counsel Matthew Wickersham joined from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and another partner, litigator Jeff Rosenfeld, came from DLA Piper, following last year’s addition of John Hanover, who’d been the CEO of Hanover Securities, in the construction and government contracts practice.
Several Alston partners departed for government jobs. In Atlanta, Mike Brown became a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Georgia, while Brian Stimson became the deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In New York, Craig Carpenito was appointed interim U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
Also in Atlanta, Kevin Gooch, who handles financing transactions, joined DLA Piper; Brandon Williams became the general counsel for World Group, the holding company for entertainer Steve Harvey’s enterprises; and senior tax practitioner Jack Sawyer went to Taylor English Duma. (An internecine dispute over a family-owned business that had used Sawyer for tax advice prompted a malpractice suit against Alston in 2012. In March, a Fulton County jury found Alston liable, awarding it 32 percent of the fault and the majority to Maury Hatcher, the eldest sibling who’d managed Hatcher Management Holdings—and against whom the company had already won a $4 million default judgment.)
In New York, litigator Mike Johnson left to become managing counsel for Wells Fargo, an Alston client, in the litigation and workout division, while Scott Samlin became the head of Pepper Hamilton’s consumer finance and bank regulatory practice.
Hays said Alston’s M&A and transactional practices were busier last year than in 2016, a trend that’s continuing. “It’s a reflection of what’s going on in the economy and of our practice strength in finance, financial services, corporate and securities work,” he said.
In addition to those areas, Hays said, the firm saw increased demand in health care, intellectual property, complex litigation and government investigations.
Alston handled several billion-dollar deals, advising Graphic Packaging in its $1.8 billion combination with International Paper’s consumer-packaging business and Total System Services in its $1.05 billion acquisition of payments firm Cayan. It represented Transamerica in a major outsourcing deal for a nearly $3 billion contract with Tata Consultancy Services.
Alston also served as counsel to Credit Suisse, Wells Fargo, Citi and other investment banks on 22 deals last year with a combined value of more than $24 billion.
On the litigation front, Alston represented Delta Air Lines in the dismissal of an anti-price-fixing case over passenger baggage fees after eight years of litigation and for Dell won a reversal of a lower-court decision in a long-running shareholder appraisal action in Delaware Chancery Court.
Alston represented longtime client Nokia in securing a $137 million international arbitration award against BlackBerry over a patent license agreement, and the firm continued to defend Home Depot, Mazda Motor Corp. and Porsche Cars North America in major class actions.