Top Ranked New Entrant | Miller Nash Graham & Dunn
The Pacific Northwest’s Miller Nash Graham & Dunn joins the NLJ 500 this year as the highest-ranked firm not appearing on last year’s list, arriving at 272.
The Portland-based Miller Nash has existed since 1873, but its 2015 merger with Seattle-based Graham & Dunn led to the 145-lawyer firm’s appearance on this year’s list for the first time. Miller Nash managing partner Kieran Curley said the firm’s focus on clients, people, diversity and community has fostered its growing numbers.
“What drives our growth is the need to continue to evolve to serve our clients in the various markets where we operate,” Curley said.
In addition to its offices in Portland and Seattle, the firm has an outpost in Vancouver and added an office in Long Beach, Calif., following the combination. Curley said the firm is primarily focused on the Seattle market but is in the process of getting feedback from clients about where to grow its geographic footprint, including to potential markets in central California.
Curley touted the firm’s representation of clients across a wide variety of practices, including banking, construction, education and corporate law, as areas whether the firm needed to be strong in both Portland and Seattle.
Miller Nash’s growth has continued unabated in 2018 with the acquisition of a seven-lawyer intellectual property group of Marger Johnson. Miller Nash’s growth will allow it to expand its IP offerings into patent law.
[Note: Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer ranks 31st in the 2018 NLJ 500, following the combination of Arnold & Porter, which ranked 63rd in the 2017 NLJ 500, and Kaye Scholer, which ranked 118 in the 2017 NLJ 500.]
Biggest Big Firm Movement | Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson’s ascension into the top 100 of the 2018 edition of the NLJ 500 is incomparable to any other firm on this year’s list.
Fried Frank jumped 12 places to No. 92 in this year’s rankings and is one of two entrants to the top 100 that did not appear on last year’s list—alongside Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, which moved up one spot to No. 100. [Note: Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer came in at No. 31 this year, following the combination of Arnold & Porter, ranked 63 in 2017, and Kaye Scholer, ranked 118 in 2017.]
Fried Frank’s head count grew by nearly 12 percent, to 491 total lawyers, last year en route to posting record-high gross revenue figures too. Fried Frank global chairman David Greenwald attributed the increasing head count as responsive to its revenue growth and to the strategic plan the firm began executing soon after he rejoined the firm from Goldman Sachs, where Greenwald worked as international general counsel and deputy general counsel.
“We were understaffed,” Greenwald said. “Our seniority structure was not really what we wanted it to be.”
He said the firm’s attrition rate has improved in the last couple of years and Fried Frank has brought in larger first-year classes in successive years. Greenwald said he anticipates another year of revenue growth and head count growth upcoming, but added that he knows the firm won’t be able to top its performance every year in perpetuity.
“I say to my partners, ‘Trees don’t grow to the sky,’” Greenwald said.
Biggest Head Count Gains | Saul Ewing
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr’s head count grew nearly 49 percent last year, following Philadelphia firm Saul Ewing’s combination with Chicago’s smaller Arnstein & Lehr.
Saul Ewing’s total lawyer head count growth and total partnership growth, nearly 56 percent, dwarf most other firms in the 2018 NLJ 500. The resulting revenue growth the firm reaped afterward—revenues rose nearly 44 percent—indicate that Saul Ewing’s example may provide a road map for other firms to follow when facing similar challenges.
Saul Ewing managing partner Barry Levin said the once-in-a-20-year event of the merger may happen much more frequently in the years to come. But, Levin said, the success the firm had last year was due to the careful coordination and planning that occurred before the two sides even closed the merger.
“It really proceeded better than we anticipated and we had a really high bar,” Levin said. “I think our success has been that both legacy firms did a tremendous amount of premerger communication.”
The two firms held a retreat of the combined executive committees before they knew the merger would close, and continued close coordination and communication throughout the combination process. Soon after the firms formally combined, 95 percent of the firm’s partnership attended a two-and-a-half-day retreat in Chicago and an internal integration hotline was set up for both email and telephone so that the firm could be responsive to client needs.
While Saul Ewing’s latest merger was a once-in-a-20-year event, the firm’s footprint in the Northeast, Midwest, and Florida looks poised to grow in the years to come.
Biggest Head Count Losses | Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman
Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman’s lost a net 58 lawyers last year, a 28 percent drop in the firm’s total lawyer headcount.
The Indianapolis-based firm, which bills itself as the “nation’s largest law firm focused exclusively on matters specific to health care organizations,” has begun to shrink.
Hall Render managing partner John Ryan said the firm’s downsizing was driven by three main factors: A significant client adding several of the firm’s attorneys as in-house counsel, the general trend in the health care industry toward in-house hiring, and the departure of medical malpractice defense attorneys who left to form their own firm after it became clear their work was increasingly misaligned with Hall Render’s strategic focus.
The Midwest market also saw a flurry of mergers last year and Hall Render was not immune to such activity. A seven-lawyer group of health care litigators split from Hall Render last June, led by Norris Cunningham, who was head of the firm’s health care litigation group.
“The overall impact for us has actually been a very positive thing,” Ryan said of the firm’s decreasing size. By offering the same quality legal services at a more affordable price point in markets lacking a high cost of living, Ryan said the firm has found traction and is looking to recruit across all of its practice areas.
Hall Render fell from 200th in last year’s rankings to 265 in the 2018 edition of the NLJ 500 and slipped from the third largest firm in Indianapolis to Naptown’s fourth largest firm.
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Clarification: This story was updated to reflect the following: Greenwald served as international general counsel and deputy general counsel at Goldman Sachs. An earlier version of this article referred to him as general counsel.