The attorney ranks at Williams Mullen shrank by 13.5 percent in 2012 — part of a plan to right size, according to the firm’s managing partner.

The midsize Richmond, Va.-based firm dropped 18 spots to No. 175 on this year’s NLJ 350. The number of partner losses totaled 89, and the associate losses added up to 21. The firm’s overall decline to 231 lawyers was the fourth largest by percentage among this year’s NLJ 350 law firms.

The decrease was the result of several "strategic decisions" to "keep our firm financially strong," Williams Mullen chief executive Thomas Frantz said.

He insisted that the reductions were not "layoffs," saying: "We shrank a little to get stronger." Frantz said the decrease came about because firm leaders looked "real hard" at the attorneys’ annual performance reviews. That hard look apparently helped boost the firm’s revenue per lawyer to $505,000 last year, up by 7.4 percent from 2011, according to The American Lawyer‘s Am Law 200. Profits per partner were up by 3.6 percent to $435,000. (The American Lawyer is an NLJ affiliate.)

At the same time, however, the firm’s gross revenue fell by 6.8 percent.

Williams Mullen’s drop in overall headcount included a 10.1 percent decline in equity partners, to 80 lawyers, and a 26.2 percent decrease in associates, to 59 lawyers. The firm reported a whopping 81.6 percent plunge in nonequity partners, to 18 in 2012 compared with 98 lawyers in 2011.

Frantz said the firm in 2011 incorrectly categorized its "other" attorneys, a category that is supposed to include staff and counsel positions, as nonequity partners, which accounted for a high number of nonequity partners in 2011 and the huge drop in 2012.

The firm, which replaced longtime chief executive officer Julious "Joey" Smith with Frantz in 2010, spent the past two years bringing in numerous administrative leaders, including a chief marketing officer.

Williams Mullen has refocused on industries and practices that are strongest in the region where it operates — Virginia and North Carolina — such as health care, tax, financial services, energy and defense, Frantz said. To strengthen those areas, the firm has maintained a strong government-contracts and relations group. But one challenge has been gaining a foothold in Washington lobbying.

"A few years back they tried to establish a government-affairs practice. It was a priority for them," said Edward Lee, founding principal of the Washington legal recruiting firm Whitehaven Strat­egies. "But I’ve never seen them deploy a coherent, strategic plan to attack the D.C. lateral market beyond hiring one or two search firms to conduct searches."

According to Frantz, the Washington office, which has about 20 attorneys, remains significant. But he conceded: "We’re just getting started."

So far in 2013, Williams Mullen has added 20 attorneys, Frantz said. The firm hired nine associates last year, Frantz said, and four more will join in the fall. "We are looking for good associates and are bringing them in," he said.

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