More than halfway into an ambitious five-year growth plan, White & Case has crossed the $2 billion mark in annual revenue for the first time.
Gross revenue grew $246 million in 2018 to $2.05 billion, a 13.7 percent increase from the prior year, according to preliminary ALM reporting. Revenue per lawyer jumped 7.8 percent to $954,000, and profits per equity partner increased 6.2 percent to $2.4 million.
The figures represent the eighth straight year of profit growth for the international firm.
Thanks in part to new office openings in the U.S., White & Case’s head count jumped 5.4 percent to 2,150 attorneys across the firm’s 44 offices worldwide. The number of equity partners grew 7.2 percent, from 319 to 342 in 2018, and the nonequity partnership also increased in size, growing 5 percent last year to 188 lawyers.
“Another year of very strong growth, especially in the U.S. with thriving new offices in Houston and Chicago and record results across the board” is how White & Case chairman Hugh Verrier summed up the firm’s performance last year.
Verrier took over leadership of the firm in 2007, and in 2015 he was re-elected to his third term as chairman. He will be up for re-election in September.
While 2018 was a robust year for the overall global economy, Verrier said White & Case’s financial performance last year had direct roots in the firm’s five-year strategy.
After maintaining a relatively flat head count in the years following the global recession, the firm determined in 2015 to increase its bench strength in New York and London, with a target of 500 lawyers in those cities by 2020. The strategy also called for targeted growth in M&A, private equity, capital markets, and disputes practices.
Thanks to strong performances in these practice areas and others, Verrier said White & Case has already surpassed some of its key financial goals two years ahead of its 2020 target.
The M&A and corporate practice handled more than $380 billion in transactions work last year, which included representation of SodaStream International Ltd. in its $3.2 billion sale to PepsiCo Inc. The firm’s capital market’s practice represented Avast in its $816 million initial public offering, the largest-ever software IPO on the London Stock Exchange, and worked with commodities trader Noble Group Ltd.’s management team in its $3.5 billion debt-for-equity cross-border restructuring.
Verrier also cited strong results for the firm’s financial restructuring and insolvency practice and its project development and finance practice, the latter of which was bolstered by its expansion in Australia and the opening of its Houston office.
Last February the firm added Vinson & Elkins oil and gas partner James “Jay” Cuclis, Andrew Kurth Kenyon partners Charlie Ofner and Christopher Richardson, and Saul Daniel, an England-qualified partner who previously practiced in the firm’s London office, to open in Houston.
The Texas outpost has since expanded to around 30 lawyers, with lateral additions that include Kirkland & Ellis partner Chad McCormick, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner Steven Otillar, Paul Hastings partner Steven Tredennick and King & Spalding’s David Strickland and Jorge Mattamouros.
The Chicago office has also expanded rapidly since opening last summer, boasting a head count of about 25 lawyers following a series of lateral additions from Greenberg Traurig and DLA Piper, and a 13-lawyer group from the Chicago office of national real estate firm Pircher, Nichols & Meeks.
Other notable 2018 laterals included Kirkland & Ellis capital markets partner Gilles Teerlinck and JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive director and assistant general counsel Julia Smithers Excell in London, and longtime U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Era Anagnosti in Washington, D.C.
The firm also opened an office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, early last year.
Verrier said that White & Case is “not slowing down investing in key lateral partners.” But given signs of a potential economic downturn on the horizon, he said the firm will exercise some caution on overall head count growth.
One of the goals of White & Case’s five-year plan that it has yet to meet is surpassing $1 million in revenue per lawyer. But Verrier said he’s confident that the firm is close.
“I think we can do it this year,” he said.