Louise Wells, managing partner, Morris Manning & Martin, Atlanta. Louise Wells, managing partner, Morris Manning & Martin, Atlanta (Photo: John Disney/ ALM)

Morris, Manning & Martin posted substantial gains in revenue and profit in 2017.

Revenue jumped 8.4 percent to $129.8 million, after a slight dip in 2016, and net income increased 12.6 percent to $49.7 million for the Atlanta-based firm.

That boosted profits per partner by $108,000 (10.2 percent) to $1,172,000. Revenue per lawyer increased $40,000 to $770,000, even though Morris Manning increased average annual lawyer head count by a net of five lawyers to 169 lawyers. The equity partner count was flat at 42, out of 82 total partners.

Louise Wells, the firm’s managing partner, attributed the revenue and profit increase to “second-generation partners coming into their own,” plus the payoff from the six lateral partners that Morris Manning added in 2016. Morris Manning celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.

“Now our 40-somethings are all business generators,” she said. “These people have all hit their strides. They are knocking it out of the park.”

Wells said 2018 has started out strong, and she expects another busy year.

The Work

Real estate and tech were the firm’s fastest-growing practices, Wells said, while health care and litigation continued to be busy.

Morris Manning is serving as outside legal counsel to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for its new 70-acre North Druid Hills Campus, with construction anticipated to begin in 2020.

It also represented developer WRS Inc., based in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, in its purchase of the historic, four-block Underground Atlanta complex from the City of Atlanta for $34.6 million. The complicated transaction closed on March 31 of last year, after two years of negotiations, and involved 16 Morris Manning lawyers, according to the firm.

WRS plans to turn the moribund site into a mixed-use development with apartments, a grocery store, a hotel, retail and 2,000 parking spaces. The deal involved 40 parcels of land and air rights above the maze of railroad and MARTA tracks, streets, alleys and viaducts on the site of the city’s original railroad terminal, which sparked its growth as a connecting point for different railroad lines.

Tenancies-in-common between the city and Fulton County, zoning and environmental considerations, privatizing streets, an affordable housing clause and opposition from neighborhood activists added to the complexity of the deal. Construction began earlier this year.

Morris Manning has been doing an increasing amount of work for private equity firms, including many on the West Coast, in acquiring portfolio companies and then additional “bolt-on” acquisitions for them, Wells said, adding that the work has evolved from the firm’s tech practice, which represents many serial entrepreneurs.

Morris Manning’s blockchain and cryptocurrency practice, started at the initiative of associate Austin Mills, is another emerging area. A number of Atlanta firms have payments and financial technologies practices, as the city is a hub for fintech, but it’s the first blockchain-oriented practice for an Atlanta law firm.

Mills told the Daily Report last fall that blockchain technology is quickly expanding beyond manufacturing cryptocurrencies, noting that Morris Manning had about a dozen blockchain clients with noncurrency-based applications in industries from health care, insurance and real estate to event ticketing.

The firm’s deal work included advising Sage Group on its sale of Sage Payment Solutions to private equity firm GTCR for $260 million.

The real estate capital markets practice advised Carter Validus Mission Critical REIT in the $315 million sale of a Chicago data center to an affiliate of Digital Realty Trust and Washington REIT in its $250 million sale of Arlington Tower in Rosslyn, Virginia to an undisclosed seller.

The Talent

Last year, Morris Manning added L. Craig Dowdy as a partner from Spire Inc., a publicly traded natural gas utility based in St. Louis, to start an energy and utilities practice. In Washington, it added Samantha Ahuja with associate Molly Kacheris to the hospitality practice from Greenberg Traurig. The firm recruited Atlanta real estate partner Mark Block from Seyfarth Shaw earlier this week.

In departures, partner Corey May joined a firm client, Cortland Partners, as general counsel. In February, Glenn Dunaway, who has a timberland practice, became special counsel at Adams and Reese, which opened an Atlanta office last year.