Morris Manning & Martin Managing Partner, Louise Wells, Atlanta.
Morris Manning & Martin Managing Partner, Louise Wells, Atlanta. (John Disney/Staff)

Morris Manning & Martin, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, posted modest decreases in revenue and profit for 2016 after landmark gains the year before.

Despite the declines, the firm pointed to signs of another strong year. Average profit per partner was again above $1 million, and the firm used the proceeds of an exceptional 2015—the firm’s best year ever—to invest in talent.

“The firm is doing well,” said managing partner Louise Wells. “In 2016, we had our second-best year in the history of the firm, eclipsed only by the prior year.”

After a 7 percent revenue spike in 2015 to $121.5 million, revenue declined by 1.6 percent to $119.5 million in 2016. Net income, which had jumped 11.8 percent to $47.5 million in 2015, was down 7.4 percent to $44 million.

Profit per partner (PPP) was flat at $1.065 million last year—down just $5,000 from 2015, when the firm passed the $1 million mark for the first time. Revenue per lawyer averaged $730,000, down $30,000 from the prior year.

Wells said the firm took advantage of its record financial growth in 2015. “Having come off that year, knowing it was a great moment, we decided this [past] year to invest in the firm,” she said.

The firm shared the largesse, boosting associate pay by $10,000 across the board last February for its roughly 70 associates. In Atlanta, its largest office, starting pay went from the market rate of $135,000 to $145,000.

Then in August, Morris Manning joined the national wave of pay raises that hit in June, increasing starting pay to the new market rate of $155,000 in Atlanta and $165,000 in Washington, its other major office.

Morris Manning also invested in its future by hiring more young associates, Wells said. The firm added 27 associates last year, including seven at entry-level, she said.

It also recruited six lateral partners, compared with only two the prior year, and promoted five lawyers to partner at the beginning of 2016.

Head count was stable at 164 last year, with a net increase of five lawyers. The total number of partners stood at 82 for 2016, after the equity partnership shrank by a net of two lawyers, to 41.5, and the nonequity partner tier grew by three lawyers, to 41.

The Work

Morris Manning’s marquee real estate and health care practices stayed busy, Wells said. The firm’s corporate tech practice, advising tech companies in mergers and acquisitions, and its trade group in Washington were among other active areas.

The health care group handles doctors’ group transactions, usually for hospitals, as well as regulatory, real estate and corporate work for hospitals and other providers. Morris Manning represented Piedmont Healthcare in connection with the $603 million expansion of its Atlanta campus with a 16-story tower next door, which included obtaining a certificate of need from the state of Georgia for additional beds, operating rooms and labs.

In real estate, mixed-use projects are a busy area for the firm, including for Atlanta’s fast-growing West Midtown district. It is advising The Allen Morris Co. in its redevelopment of the Star Iron and Metal Co. scrap yard into a $210 million office, apartment and retail project, Star Metals, at 1050 and 1055 Howell Mill Road N.W.

The firm continues to advise on apartment complex transactions for developers including Atlanta-based Wood Partners. Morris Manning advised commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield in its acquisition of Atlanta-based Multi Housing Advisors (MHA), which handles multifamily deals. Hospitality is another active real estate area, Wells said.

The Talent

In Atlanta, Morris Manning added Edgar Bueno, the former chief of the civil division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, to defend health care providers in government investigations and whistleblower suits.

Real estate partner Robert Rearden joined from local boutique Sheley, Hall & Williams, and Edward Hudson and Nick Stutzman brought their residential real estate practices to the firm after their Columbus firm, Hatcher, Stubbs, Land, Hollis & Rothschild, which disbanded at the beginning of 2016. Patent partner Mary An Merchant, who focuses on biotech patents and medical devices, joined from Ballard Spahr.

This year Morris Manning has already added L. Craig Dowdy 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 as a partner in the hospitality practice with associate Molly Kacheris.

In Washington, the firm lost real estate partner Wendy White to Boston-based Goulston & Storrs. Morris Manning had recruited White from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in 2014 to co-head its D.C. office.

In Atlanta, real estate lawyers Rusty Fleming, who has a structured finance practice, and David Burch, who handles real estate finance and development, headed to Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.