Riding a rising tide of client demand, Debevoise & Plimpton reached new revenue and profit highs last year.
The New York firm’s gross revenue increased 13 percent in 2018 to $929 million. Revenue per lawyer jumped 8.8 percent to $1.4 million, while profits per equity partner climbed to $3.265 million, an increase of 15.5 percent over 2017.
Presiding partner Michael Blair attributed the firm’s financial performance to demand growth across most of its core practice areas, priority industries and important geographies.
“We saw this significant increase in client demand begin in 2017 and then continue into 2018,” said Blair, who has led the firm since 2011.
In the two-year span beginning in 2017, Debevoise’s revenue increased 26 percent, and profits per equity partner jumped 35.5 percent, Blair said, adding that partner profits were up a whopping 57 percent in a six-year period.
“It shows that we have been improving our financial performance more rapidly than the overall market on a sustained basis over what is now a meaningful number of years,” Blair said.
As in 2017, the firm’s priority industry groups—banking, health care, insurance, private equity and technology, media and telecommunications—each experienced increases in demand last year, as did its offices in Asia, Europe and the United States, Blair said.
Driven by strong performance from its transactional and litigation practices, Debevoise’s offices in Hong Kong and London were standouts, with an increase in revenue around 24 percent in those offices, he said.
Several practices also had record-breaking years, according to the firm. The private funds practice broke all previous revenue records, advising on more than 100 private funds targeting more than $125 billion in commitments, Blair said. It was also a record year for the M&A and insurance practices, he said.
Debevoise advised Tribune Media Co. on its $6.4 billion sale to American telecommunications company Nexstar Media Group Inc. The firm represented Guggenheim Partners LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC in their roles as financial adviser to open source software company Red Hat Inc. in its $33.4 billion sale to International Business Machines Corp., the largest ever acquisition of a software company.
The firm, along with Ashurst and King & Wood Mallesons, also represented London-based Resolution Life Group Holdings in its $2.3 billion acquisition of Australian wealth management firm AMP Ltd.’s Australia and New Zealand life insurance division.
Mary Jo White, former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chair who rejoined the firm in as senior chair in 2017, was tapped to conduct an internal investigation into alleged sexual misconduct on the part of former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, alongside Covington & Burling’s Nancy Kestenbaum.
Debevoise grew 3.8 percent by head count in 2018, from 631 attorneys to 655. The number of equity partners at the lockstep firm remained fairly static, dipping 1.4 percent to 136 from 138 the year prior.
On the lateral moves front, Debevoise entered 2018 after a pair of notable departures: the head of the firm’s investment management and funds group, Erica Berthou, and the deputy chair of its corporate department, Jordan Murray, both jumped to Kirkland & Ellis in the final weeks of 2017.
By last summer, the firm was in hiring mode, adding the co-chair of the financial services practice at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Jeffrey Robins, in New York, and Edward “Ted” Hassi, a former O’Melveny & Myers partner and top FTC lawyer, in Washington, D.C.
Abroad, Debevoise brought on Ashurst Asia dispute resolution head Gareth Hughes to launch the firm’s Hong Kong disputes practice.
As for 2019, Blair said the firm doesn’t have any office openings or new hires to announce in the near term, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. (The firm is reportedly shopping around for new office space in Hudson Yards, but Blair declined to comment on the matter.)
“Having grown our revenue 26 percent over the last two years on a relatively flat partner head count, at some point it will get difficult to keep growing in double digits, but I don’t see any significant changes,” Blair said.