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Big Law Reports Revenue Growth in 2017

April 24, 2018, 7:17 PM

The American Lawyer released its annual report on the top 100 US law firms April 23, and it’s full of good news for Big Law.

Revenue at the country’s biggest law firms grew at the fastest rate since the great recession, up 5.5 percent to a record $91.4 billion, according to the American Lawyer.

The top law firms ranked by gross revenue are Kirkland & Ellis; Latham & Watkins; Baker McKenzie; DLA Piper; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Of those, Kirkland far outperformed the rest, with a 19.4 percent growth in revenue, up to $3.165 billion. Put in perspective: Kirkland accounted for 11.6 percent of the AmLaw100’s total revenue growth last year.

Though some in Big Law may be concerned by growing threats of alternative legal services, outsourcing, and client pressures on fees, the AmLaw 100 results show that firms are still thriving.

Josh Kubicki, a former chief strategy officer for Seyfarth Shaw who now runs his own legal consulting business, said fears of Big Law’s demise are likely shaped by an outsized media focus on industry disruptions.

“When you look at what firms are actually doing, I think the business model is sound,” he said.

He added that big changes might be taking place farther down on the legal totem pole. “I’m keen to see the AmLaw second hundred, because that’s where we could see a lot of disruption,” he said. The American Lawyer typically publishes the AmLaw200 list in May.

As for the AmLaw100 firms, Kubicki said the top performers might see even more revenue growth by trimming down organizational costs driven up by client churn and lateral hires.

“When I see these results, the question I ask myself is not why did they have such a good year, but why wasn’t it better?” he said. “I think they leave a lot of value on the table for their partners.”

Across the AmLaw100, average profit per partner was $1,767,054. Top firms made about than three times that.

The top law firms ranked by profits per partner in 2017 are Wachtell, at $5,700,000; Quinn Emanuel, at $4,735,000; Kirkland & Ellis at $4,701,000; Paul Weiss at $4,563,000; and Sullivan & Cromwell and $4,271,000.

As they do every year, the AmLaw 100 list shifted slightly from 2016, with Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins swapping the top two positions on the list. Other notable changes include K&L Gates, which dropped from spot 23 to 32; Baker Botts, which dropped from spot 39 to 50; and Cadwalader, which dropped from spot 72 to 86.

But there were no huge surprises, according to Kubicki.

“There’s lots of movement three or four steps in either direction, but there weren’t really any eye popping moments in there,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

To contact the editor on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.