BuckleySandler.
BuckleySandler. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)

Two years ago, BuckleySandler’s “investment cases,” including a $550 million federal settlement with the Navajo Nation, paid off so richly that every employee earned bonuses. Last year brought another special chunk of revenue.

The IndyMac Bancorp Inc. bankruptcy, a case that firm founder Andrew Sandler had handled since he opened the firm in 2009 and which settled last year, delivered a second bump in contingency revenue to the Washington-based midsized financial-services law firm.

“I call it our leap-year strategy,” Sandler said. “I tell my partners, put it in the bank, maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t.” Generally, Sandler hopes a case that’s built around contingency payments concludes every four years. The cases can make up about 5 to 10 percent of the firm’s lawyers’ time, he said.

Despite the wins, last year gross revenue for the firm was “modestly” lower than the previous year, because of how large that Navajo Nation payout had been, comparatively, Sandler said. “We had a super year following a stupendous year,” Sander said.

The firm brought in about $145.7 million in gross revenue, about a 6 percent decrease from the year before. Net income stayed about the same, at almost $90 million, causing $2.646 million profits per partner. The firm doesn’t officially disclose its financial numbers or its breakdown of nonequity versus equity partners, so the 2015 results are National Law Journal estimates.

Core revenue—aside from the cases with special fee structures—grew “significantly,” Sandler said, though not enough to replace the 2014 bump from contingency money.

Any growth in the bonanza of payouts or in core revenue is in contrast to several Washington firms that stagnated or shrunk in revenue this year.

“I’m hoping to believe this is the new normal,” Sandler said of the core revenue growth.

The firm added two full-time lawyer positions for 144 in total. Its partnership grew by two as well, to 34 lawyers.

Douglas Gansler, who was Maryland attorney general until 2015 and is now a partner, built out the firm’s state attorneys general practice. Gansler joined the firm in January 2015, then was tapped by embattled Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to lead the special prosecution team on the “Porngate” emails scandal.

State attorneys general work has “always been a core part of our practice, but never as significant as it was last year,” Sandler said.

The firm leader sees that New York, an office with eight lawyers, and Chicago, with eight lawyers, could still grow, he said. The firm also has 105 lawyers in Washington, 21 in Los Angeles and one in London.

Sandler said he would like BuckleySandler to open a sixth office in San Francisco due to the online financial-services industry, he said.

Despite the financial optimism and growth projections, Sandler was hesitant to say his employees should expect the same sort of blockbuster business every year in the future.

“The biggest risk to the future of this law firm is hubris,” Sandler said. “We are in an industry where there are many very, very capable, successful, hard-working competitors. The day we start resting on our laurels is the day we leave the first tier.”