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After Clash, American Lawyer Posts Higher Profits for Dentons

Aug. 27, 2015, 3:07 PM

After waging a three-month-long public campaign that included taking out media ads, the global law firm Dentons has persuaded The American Lawyer magazine to sharply increase its estimate of the firm’s profits-per-partner.

On Wednesday, The American Lawyer said it has revised Dentons’ profits-per-partner, from $495,000 to $680,000 — a 37 percent increase. In making the change, the magazine cited the fact that Dentons provided its financial information with validation from its auditor KPMG, but did not cite any reason for the error.

“The number was off by 30 percent, and all charts and data... have to be corrected,” said Dentons CEO Elliott Portnoy, in an interview on Wednesday evening.

Portnoy said that the correction was “not as prominent as we believe it should be... but we are nevertheless pleased that The American Lawyer admitted it was wrong.”

In its public campaign, Dentons’ leadership lined up interviews with reporters at numerous legal trade publications, placed advertisements with The Lawyer and elsewhere, and established an entire website devoted to calling out American Lawyer for the inaccuracy.

Said one statement on the website: “In its May 2015 issue,The American Lawyer concocted and published inaccurate average global profit per equity partner numbers for Dentons in its AmLaw 100 survey without any attribution, and made erroneous extrapolations to draw grossly inaccurate conclusions.”

Portnoy declined to disclose how much money the ad campaign cost, but said that the firm needed to launch an aggressive effort because American Lawyer had characterized Dentons as a firm that had sustained a year-over-year decrease in profitability; and the truth had actually been the opposite, he said.

“It was not consistent with the standards we would expect in a publication that covers the profession,” said Portnoy.

The American Lawyer rarely, if ever, revises its profits per partner figure for law firms. In one sui generis instance in 2012, the publicationrevised its financial reporting for the defunct New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, with a note that explained the firm had provided inflated data for 2011.

Dentons had last year announced that it would not report its global profits per partner figure to The American Lawyer. Its Chairman Joe Andrew has told the press that the figure is “meaningless” because Dentons is a global firm and its offices have drastically varying profitability depending on the market. Still, the figures remain widely cited by industry consultants and lawyers at firms.

An American Lawyer spokeswoman did not make a ALM representative available for comment for this story.

In the Wednesday interview, Andrew stood by the fact that he still feels the figure is “meaningless” despite the fact that the firm had to provide it to The American Lawyer to get the correction issued.

He said that the correction should elevate Dentons brand: “One thing clients like is a lawyer who is a fighter, a lawyer who doesn’t back down.”

The correction comes at a time when a prominent legal consultant is conducting a survey on the overall accuracy of the American Lawyer rankings.