In a recent comment in an article for The BLT (Blog of Legal Times), Crowell & Moring chairman Kent Gardiner mentioned that “maintaining your position is the new up” for today’s law firms. In some ways, this rings very true given the difficulties of the last few years. The industry has changed dynamically since the recession of 2008, and recent trends like fluctuating employment and staggering losses of partners and profit at firms like Dewey & LeBoeuf appear to confirm Gardiner’s thinking. However, closer analysis of AmLaw’s most recent rankings for 2011 reveals growth is still very possible.

In fact, 83 of the country’s top 100 firms reported gains in revenue in 2011, 25% more than last year. Quinn Emmanuel Urqhart & Sullivan led the way with 31.4% growth, and 13 of the top 100 brought in more than $1 billion in revenues. On the other side, 2011 was a hard year for firms like Rosen & Katz and Fulbright & Jaworski, which experienced the largest decreases in revenues, of 4.8% and 4.5% respectively. But across the board, the numbers show that many firms are finding ways to adapt and grow even in the face of adversity.

This is certainly true in DC. With a growing demand for regulatory work ranging anywhere from financial services, to food/drug and agriculture, health and life sciences, and energy, the nation’s capital is now one of the industry’s hottest and most timely markets along with Silicon Valley.

According to the aforementioned BLT article, “Top DC Firms Show Revenue Gains in 2011”, 8 of the 9 DC-based firms that made the AmLaw 100 for 2011 posted increases in revenues, except for Hogan Lovells. Of the 8 that posted increases, 6 of those were greater than 5%, including:

  • Arnold & Porter, up 15.2% to $639.5 million
  • Steptoe & Johnson, up 9.1% to $376.5 million
  • Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner, up 7.4% to $342 million
  • Venable, up 5.3% to $355.5 million
  • Covington & Burling, up 5.1% to $611 million
  • Williams & Connolly, up 5% to $317.5 million

The other 2 DC-based firms that experienced increased revenues were Crowell & Moring and Patton Boggs, both of which increased slightly by 0.6% to $329.5 million and $339.5 million, respectively.

Additionally, firms like Atlanta-based Alston & Bird have showed that significant success is also achievable outside of hot markets. Their 24% increase in profits per partner was second highest among firms in the AmLaw 100, second only to Arnold & Porter’s 25% increase in PPP.

While many firms grew through expansion (like Alston & Bird, who added 12 lawyers in California and Brussels, and Arnold & Porter, who added 26), others experienced growth with fewer lawyers. According to an April 26 AmLaw article by Robin Sparkman, Hunton & Williams and Mayer Brown both posted double digit gains in revenue per lawyer, while shedding more than 100 lawyers (12% fewer at Hunton and 7.4% at Mayer Brown).

Clearly the model for firm success has changed and will continue to in the wake of the recession. But as many of the nation’s top firms have shown, growth is still an achievable and necessary expectation for those that seek to improve their standing.