It was another strong year for Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.
The Atlanta-based labor and employment firm posted increases in revenue, profit and head count in 2017 while opening three new offices, in Paris, Sacramento and Oklahoma City, for a total of 52 offices in the U.S. and abroad.
Ogletree posted $469.5 million in revenue last year, an increase of almost 10 percent. That pushed up net income by 8 percent to $130.8 million, resulting in a $37,000 increase in profit per equity partner (PPP) to $723,000.
Revenue per lawyer (RPL) increased by $8,000 to $571,000, even though Ogletree added a net of 63 lawyers (an 8.3 percent increase) to its annual average head count, for a total of 822 lawyers. The firm expanded its equity partner ranks by four lawyers, to 181 equity partners.
“We’ve had very strong organic growth across the firm,” said managing shareholder Matt Keen. One-third of Ogletree’s offices grew by more than 10 percent in head count, he said, and the three new offices have “gotten off to good starts,” at least doubling in size since they opened.
Keen said lateral hiring has been particularly active in the firm’s New York, Seattle, Boston and California offices.
Ogletree’s revenue growth of 9.9 percent slightly outpaced head count growth of 8.3 percent, Keen noted. “We’re not just adding people. We’re adding them because we have the work,” he said.
Last year’s growth followed a 7 percent revenue increase to $427 million in 2016, when head count grew 5.2 percent to 759 lawyers, and PPP increased by $25,000 to $686,000.
Busy practice areas, Keen said, included immigration and class action defense, as well as workplace safety, ERISA-employee benefits and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.
Data privacy is a busy area for multinational clients with European operations, as they prepare for much stricter requirements under the General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect May 25.
In one ADA case that was granted class action status in May, the firm is representing Steak ‘n Shake against a pair of plaintiffs who claim the chain’s outlets in Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio, have parking lots with slopes that are too steep for their wheelchairs.
Ogletree also is handling more government and internal investigations, Keen said, often involving whistleblowers alleging a retaliatory firing. In one, the firm defended Morgan Stanley in a suit brought by a former employee, a financial adviser, who claimed he was fired in 2013 for cooperating with the FBI in an investigation.
It represented KPMG in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, lasting from 2011 to 2013, that found the company discriminated against Asian job applicants at a New Jersey office. KPMG settled last year for $420,000.
One of the firms representing the female employees in the long-running KPMG gender discrimination class action, Sanford Heisler Sharp, filed a proposed class action seeking $300 million for gender discrimination against Ogletree itself in January. The suit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of a former shareholder at the firm, Dawn Knepper.
The complaint alleges that Ogletree pays it male shareholders, on average, $110,000 more than its female shareholders and does not promote women at rates “remotely equal” to men.
Ogletree said in a statement that the firm’s decision-making for compensation is “fair and equitable” and that “equal opportunity has been a core principle of Ogletree Deakins since the firm’s founding.”
Ogletree ranked No. 13 last year on the National Law Journal’s Women in Law Scorecard, which ranked 261 large firms based on the sum of the percentages of women partners and attorneys. At Ogletree, 30.5 percent of partners and 42 percent of attorneys overall were female.
Aside from the gender bias case it’s battling in California, Ogletree faced a malpractice trial last week in Atlanta stemming from claims that a former associate mishandled visa work for client National Geographic by forging the client’s signature on visa applications for a freelance British photographer. A Fulton County jury returned a $1.8 million verdict against the firm.
Ogletree has continued to invest in knowledge management technology, Keen said. “It allows us to do alternative fee work, be very efficient and provide good value to clients.”
That includes an online dashboard that provides real-time reporting to clients on cases the firm is handling, and a shared intranet site for instant communication between lawyers and clients for matters.
Keen said the real-time communication has been popular with clients. “They like to be able to see the status of the cases—the spend, the budget on the case going forward—so they can plan their business activities,” he said.
Client service is the firm’s main focus going forward, he added. “It continues to be the catalyst for future growth.”
The firm rolled out a “client toolkit” for its lawyers in the third and fourth quarter of 2017 aimed at providing consistent quality and service for clients from the firm’s more than 800 lawyers, Keen said. The toolkit facilitates uniform reporting to clients from all of Ogletree’s offices, and it provides client information on things like personnel and operations so that the lawyers “can understand the business and how they like to operate,” he said.
Client service “can be a challenge,” Keen said, “but we want it to be our biggest strength”
“We want to provide the same level and type of service from any office wherever it is,” he said. “I think that’s what clients are looking for.”