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Mayer Brown Mayer Brown offices in Washington, D.C. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi

Mayer Brown has posted record financial results for 2017, with revenue eclipsing the firm’s pre-recession highs for the first time and profits per equity partner (PEP) rising 8.8% to $1.575m.

Revenue at the Chicago-founded firm grew 4.2% in 2017 to $1.313bn, according to preliminary ALM data. The firm’s lawyer and partner headcount both narrowly declined, pushing revenue per lawyer up 5.3% over the prior year to $836,000.

“2017 represented a continuation of a multiyear trend in deepening and improving our relationships with our clients and with one another,” said firm chairman Paul Theiss. “The result of that was a record financial year. And we thank our clients for that.”

Overall lawyer headcount declined 0.9% to 1,571, while the equity partnership contracted by 1.4%, for 292 partners last year. The modest declines came after a relative growth spurt in 2016.

Theiss, who has led the firm since 2012, said its performance across practices was relatively even, adding it “would be hard to pick out a particular practice area” that drove the firm’s revenue and profit growth.

He did note, however, that the firm’s international insurance practice had a record year in 2017. That practice recently added well-known litigator Robert Harrell from Norton Rose Fulbright in Houston. Brian McKenna, a corporate and securities partner the firm added from Debevoise & Plimpton in Hong Kong last month, also represents insurance companies.

Mayer Brown hired 18 lateral partners last year, compared to 49 in 2016. Notable 2017 additions include a real estate financing duo who joined the firm in Los Angeles from Sidley Austin. And the firm picked up three partners in Asia in August, two of who came from Standard Chartered Bank, to co-lead a trade and structured finance practice in Asia.

However, the firm’s London office saw eight partners leave towards the end of 2017. Six of those exits were from its insurance practice, comprising a four-partner team which joined Kennedys and two others who left for Clyde & Co.

The City base now has 230 lawyers, including 40 equity partners, and while the firm declined to provide a specific London revenue figure, London senior partner Sally Davies said the office had increased both revenue and PEP during the year.

Davies (pictured)  said: “As with our global performance, the London office also saw an increase in its revenue and PEP in 2017 - it was a strong year for us.

“Our performance was not fuelled by any one practice area - there was solid activity from almost all areas of the business; transactional, advisory and contentious, which very much reflects our global performance. Building on this excellent performance is now our key priority and we have already seen a strong start to 2018.”

Playing catch-up

Mayer Brown has seen revenue growth for six straight years. And since Theiss took the reins in 2012, revenue has grown 20% and PEP is up 38%.

Nonetheless, it is one of the last law firms of its size to exceed revenue posted for 2008, the pre-recession high watermark for most firms.

Among the law firms to rank in the US top 20 last year, the only firm that took longer than Mayer Brown to reach its pre-recession revenue mark was Weil Gotshal & Manges. Weil’s revenue topped out in 2009 at $1.233bn, and it beat that number for the first time in 2016, when it brought in $1.266bn.

Among firms that ranked in the US top 20 in 2009 – a club that included Mayer Brown with its $1.294bn in revenue – there are only two firms that have failed to beat their revenue performance from that year. Those are McDermott Will & Emery and now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf, which collapsed in 2012. McDermott posted $966m in revenue in 2008, its best year since 2016 when it reached $908.5m. (McDermott’s 2017 revenue has not yet been reported.)

Theiss said Mayer Brown’s performance ramped up through 2017, with the fourth quarter proving to be a better market – as many reports indicated.

“Certainly we saw increasing momentum through 2017, and we started out 2018 continuing that,” Theiss said. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our clients and grow those relationships. And if we’re able to do that, then 2018 will be a successful year for us.”

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