Arnold & Porter Chairman Thomas Milch’s focus on fiscal and partner responsibility, plus strategic lateral hiring, has helped the firm thrive amid national and regional economic upheaval.

Milch, who took the helm in 2006, steered a steady financial course during the downturn. The firm’s gross revenues climbed from $513 million in 2008 to $555 million in 2010, while profits per equity partner increased from $910,000 to just more than $1.1 million, according to Am Law 100 data.

“We’ve grown…into the headwinds of the recession,” Milch said. He added that each of the last four years has been better than the prior year.

The firm’s head count has jumped from 592 in January 2007 to 700 in January 2011, while profitability jumped more than 40% during the same time frame, he said.

Under Milch’s leadership, the firm beefed up its balance sheet through such steps as ending an unfunded retirement plan, avoided associate layoffs during the recession and raised expectations for partners.

“We tried to communicate a higher level of expectations. I think it makes a difference,” Milch said. He said the firm also has successfully improved its ability to attract new business. Targeted lateral hiring, in areas like international arbitration, white-collar, health care and intellectual property litigation, are part of the growth story.

Milch has been able to lead colleagues toward a more entrepreneurial style “in a good way, not as sharp elbows,” said managing partner Richard Alexander. — Sheri Qualters