Saul Ewing saw its gross revenue grow by 5.3 percent but its revenue per lawyer (RPL) dip by 0.9 percent in 2013, a year in which the firm increased its overall headcount by 14 lawyers.
The firm’s revenue rose from $132 million in 2012 to $139 million in 2013, while its RPL fell slightly, from $585,000 to $580,000.
Managing partner Barry F. Levin attributed the revenue increase partially to an intensified focus on industry groups such as life sciences and higher education, which were both busy last year.
Also, in addition to its active litigation practice, Levin said Saul Ewing saw a fair amount of transactional and real estate work, particularly toward the end of 2013.
The firm’s revenue growth did not translate to a significant jump in profits in 2013, however, with net income inching up by just over 1 percent, from $45.5 million in 2012 to $46 million in 2013.
Levin, a Baltimore-based lawyer who officially took over as managing partner of Saul Ewing on Jan. 21 of this year, characterized 2013 as an “investment year” and noted that the firm was still able to beat its budget by 19 percent.
Levin said the firm has managed to remain stable, even through a difficult economy and turbulent legal market, by avoiding long-term debt and ensuring that no single client accounts for more than 3 percent of the firm’s total revenue.
In addition, Levin said Saul Ewing’s business model has always been based on “way less leverage and greater partner involvement” than many similar sized firms’ models.
Levin said he believes that, in this radically different post-recession legal landscape, the industry as a whole is beginning to come around to Saul Ewing’s way of conducting itself.
“I think historically law firms hung out their shingles and they were the wise counselors and clients came to them,” Levin said.
Since the recession, however, the clients dictate the type of legal services they need and it’s up to firms to provide those clients with value, according to Levin.
“The whole industry turned upside down,” Levin said, adding that it’s the firms that can offer quality service with low overhead that will be nimble enough to adapt to the change.
Much of Saul Ewing’s investment last year took the form of increasing headcount by 6.2 percent, growing from 226 lawyers in 2012 to 240 lawyers in 2013, many of whom were added to the firm’s Pittsburgh and Boston offices.
Levin said the firm chose to devote much of its resources to building up those locations last year, rather than opening in new markets.
The firm kicked off 2013 by hiring John P. Englert, an energy and environmental attorney, who joined as a partner from K&L Gates’ Pittsburgh office.
In April, the firm hired former Leech Tishman partners Charles Kelly, who was chair of the firm’s litigation group, and Joseph H. Bucci, who was the chair of the firm’s construction group, to its Pittsburgh office.
Former Leech Tishman partner Ericson P. Kimbel, who is also a construction attorney, joined Saul Ewing in Pittsburgh as special counsel, and Kevin B. Acklin, who was also a partner at Leech Tishman and head of its mergers and acquisitions practice, joined as a partner.
Acklin, however, left the firm toward the end of last year to serve as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff.
The addition of the Leech Tishman lawyers came less than a month after Saul Ewing added four Employee Retirement Income Security Act attorneys from Thorp Reed & Armstrong—now Clark Hill Thorp Reed—to its business and finance department in Pittsburgh.
Sarah Lockwood Church, who had been the head of Thorp Reed’s employee benefits group, joined Saul Ewing as special counsel in March. Former Thorp Reed senior counsel Paul A. Kasicky and Kevin A. Wiggins, along with counsel Joni Landy, all joined Saul Ewing as special counsel as well.
Also in April, the firm brought aboard Peter Lauro and Melissa Hunter-Ensor as partners in the business and finance, life sciences and intellectual property and technology practices in Boston. They joined the firm from Edwards Wildman Palmer.
Also among the new additions in 2013 was Kathryn R. Doyle, an IP lawyer who joined the firm as a partner in Philadelphia from boutique Riverside Law in September.
In October, former Saul Ewing Chairman Stephen S. Aichele returned to the firm as a real estate partner in Philadelphia after serving as Gov. Tom Corbett’s chief of staff.
Despite the influx of new hires in 2013, the firm’s equity partner tier remained flat at 81 attorneys.
The slight uptick in net income caused the firm’s profits per equity partner (PPP) to increase by 1.8 percent, from $560,000 in 2012 to $570,000 in 2013.
Meanwhile, the firm’s nonequity partner tier grew by 3.6 percent, from 55 partners to 57 partners.
Looking ahead, Levin said Saul Ewing will continue to focus on growing its existing offices but will remain open to opportunities for geographic expansion beyond what he refers to as the firm’s “super-regional” footprint, which extends west from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, south to Washington, D.C., and north to Boston.
Similarly, Levin said, the firm will use 2014 to both integrate the new lawyers it brought on last year and to keep an eye out for new hires.