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Wake Up Call: Firm Profits Rose, Headcounts Shrank in 2020

Feb. 2, 2021, 2:09 PM

In today’s column, a fee dispute contributed to former President Trump’s recent split with his impeachment legal team, a report says; President Biden’s nominee to be the top U.S. trade lawyer is a former Big Law attorney; Shearman says it will cooperate with a new boutique formed by eight global arbitration partners who left the firm; two litigation powerhouses rejected a recruiter’s suggestion that they merge.

  • Leading off, after law firms’ profits surged close to 10% in 2020, they’re expecting strong revenue and demand growth for 2021, according to a new survey report from Wells Fargo Private Bank Legal Specialty Group. (American Lawyer)
  • Despite 2020’s big profits, law firms cut their lawyer headcounts by about 1.6% on average over the year, with associates making up most of the cuts, according to a new report. (American Lawyer)
  • Morrison & Foerster said it plans to lay off roughly 4% of its U.S. staff and cut a “handful” of U.K. jobs in response to trends accelerated by the pandemic. (BLAW)
  • Remote work arrangements brought on by the pandemic eased the logistics of lateral hiring, but it also created new concerns. (
  • Case management software is getting more use during the pandemic as home-bound lawyers use the tools to enter their own billable hours and other tasks. But lawyers say the platforms could use more features, such as video conferencing. (Legaltech News)
  • Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan opened a new Atlanta office Monday based out of the home of former Alston & Bird trial partner Debra Bernstein. The hire comes weeks after Quinn Emanuel founder John Quinn said his firm would be open to hiring prominent partners in cities where it does not have a formal office. (BLAW)
  • Quinn Emanuel and Boies Schiller Flexner both rejected a legal recruiter’s recent suggestion that the two litigation firms should merge, according to a report. (

Biden Administration, Election Litigation, Fallout From Capitol Riots

  • Former President Donald Trump’s abrupt split with his former legal team for his second Senate impeachment trial was triggered by a dispute over legal fees, not just differences over strategy, according to a report. (Axios)
  • U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai, most recently chief trade counsel at the House Committee on Ways and Means, is a former lawyer at Baker & McKenize and Miller & Chevalier. (Politico)
  • President Joe Biden’s pick for attorney general, Merrick Garland, reported holding shares in companies including Procter & Gamble Co. and vaccine manufacturer Pfizer Inc. (Bloomberg News via BLAW)
  • Latham & Watkins litigation partner Kevin Chambers joined the U.S. Justice Department as a top aide in the deputy attorney general’s office. (National Law Journal)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Shearman & Sterling’s Paris-based global arbitration heads, Emmanuel Gaillard and Yas Banifatemi, have left the firm with six other partners to start an arbitration boutique with offices in Paris, London, and New York. Shearman said “The two firms expect to cooperate regularly on select matters in order to best serve the interests of their common and future clients.” (
  • Women and minorities are making scant progress in getting into the partnership ranks of law firms, according to a recent report by the National Association for Law Placement. (BLAW)
  • Nixon Peabody elected health care and insurance law partner Stephen Zubiago as its new chief executive officer and managing partner. He replaces Andrew Glincher, who held the job for a decade and now becomes the firm’s senior chairman. (BLAW)
  • Lawyers and other professionals in the Weinstein Co. bankruptcy case have taken in $26 million in fees so far, quite a bit more than the $17.1 million that Harvey Weinstein’s victims will get. (Variety)

Laterals, Moves

  • Paul Hastings got Honeywell International Inc.’s former chief antitrust lawyer Gary Zanfagna as a partner in Washington. Zanfagna, who left Honeywell last May after 20 years at the company, is the American Bar Association antitrust section chair. He’s a former Federal Trade Commission assistant director for policy planning and a former Jones Day associate. (
  • Cooley got fintech and payments specialist, Guadalupe Sampedro, PayPal’s former EU data protection officer and privacy director for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as a partner in London for its cyber/data/privacy team. Sampedro arrives most recently from Bird & Bird, where she was a partner. (
  • Arnold & Porter hired five new lawyers across four offices and three practice areas, including Mark Epley, who among other things was previously senior advisor to former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (BLAW)
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati got back tech and M&A partner Michael Russell to co-lead its mergers and acquisitions practice, based in Silicon Valley. He’s returning after a five-year stint with Goodwin Procter. (BLAW)
  • Holland & Knight opened an office in Orange County, California, with a seven-lawyer team of litigators and two law clerks previously at Enterprise Counsel Group. The team includes ECG’s president and founding shareholder, David Robinson, who joins as executive partner, and two partners. (
  • FisherBroyles grabbed three corporate partners in Chicago from Faegre Drinker: Andrew Geier, Nicholas Isaacson, and Kelley Smith, and a senior paralegal. (
  • Cleary Gottlieb recruited executive compensation and employee benefits lawyer Audry Casusol as a partner. She was previously a partner at Sidley Austin and before that a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig. (
  • Baker Botts hired financial restructuring lawyer David R. Eastlake as a partner based in Houston. He was previously a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig. (
  • Sidley Austin said an ex-associate at the firm, Brenna Jenny, is returning as a partner in Washington after leaving the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was most recently principal deputy general counsel, as well as chief legal officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (
  • Reed Smith got veteran McGuireWoods managed care litigator Steven Hamilton as a partner in Chicago. (
  • Pillsbury hired a former New York State consumer financial services regulator, Brian Montgomery, as senior counsel in New York. (
  • Gunderson Dettmer added experienced debt financing lawyer Jay DelMonico as a partner in Boston. He recently was a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig for about a year, before which he was a partner at Holland & Knight. (
  • Lowenstein Sandler got investment management in-house veteran Boris Liberman as a partner. He spent 12 years as senior counsel at AQR Capital Management LLC. (
  • McGuireWoods brought on human resources pro Stephanie Neal as its chief human resources officer. (


  • Foley & Lardner promoted 19 lawyers (eight women) to partner effective Feb. 1. (

Legal Education

  • California and New York say they don’t plan any major fixes to their online bar exams, despite some embarrassing snafus with the tests last year. (BLAW)
  • Students at Columbia Law School say the administration has neglected mental health problems worsened by the pandemic. (Above the Law)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at; Darren Bowman at