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Wake Up Call: In Pre-Covid 2019, Kirkland Topped $4 Billion Revenues

April 22, 2020, 12:31 PM

In today’s column, the 100 biggest U.S. law firms averaged 5% gains in both gross revenues and average profits per equity partner in 2019, and 11 firms topped $2 billion revenues in the latest Am Law rankings; DLA Piper had near 10% revenue gains last year, but it’s still among firms making austerity cuts to prepare for the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; as law firms switched to remote working, some practice partners have had to turn into “mini managing partners.”

  • Leading off, Kirkland & Ellis became the first firm to top $4 billion in gross revenues in 2019, and eighty-six of the firms in the latest Am 100 data reported revenue gains. But that was before Covid-19 arrived. How well Big Law firms do in the economic crisis that follows the pandemic could come down to how much cash they still have on hand. (American Lawyer)

  • Goodwin Procter last year had $1.33 billion in 2019 revenues, up 11%. But, to ward off a coronavirus cash crunch, it recently laid off business services professionals across departments including marketing, business development, and information technology, among others. On the other hand, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, whose revenues rose 8.1% compared with 2018 to $2.27 billion, recently followed through with 2% pay hikesfor business services staff worldwide, including in the U.S. (American Lawyer)

  • DLA Piper, whose 9.7% revenue gain to $3.1 billion put it at No. 3 in this year’s Am Law ranking, announced delays in partner profit draws, pay cuts for others, and other austerity measures for the firm’s offices in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. (Above the Law)

  • Ogletree Deakin announced staff furloughs last week and this week it announced temporary pay cuts for all lawyers, including shareholders, and for staff making over $100,000. (Daily Report) (Above the Law) London-headquartered Clifford Chance said it’s deferring partner profit distributions and freezing pay. (Financial News) (GlobalLegalPost.com) Recently, merged Midwestern firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister has had to make layoffs and cut pay. (Above The Law)

  • Baker McKenzie, after cutting pay by 15%, is shortening its summer associate program to a five-weeks and taking it virtual, the latest firm to adjust its summer program because of the pandemic. (BLAW)

  • As firms make painful Covid-19 cuts, they seem to have learned lessons from the 2008 financial crisis about balancing economics and image, and transparency. (American Lawyer) Law firms’ abrupt shift to remote working since the Covid-19 pandemic hit has made the role of practice chiefs even more important. (American Lawyer)

  • Gibson Dunn is representing a major insurer in its federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that two policies bought by celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos’ law firm, Geragos & Geragos don’t cover business losses from Covid-19. (The Recorder)

  • In California, a group of law school students and a group of deans are urging the state’s high court to cancel in-person bar exams for the rest of 2020. There’s not much consensus on the next move, though. (BLAW)

  • In France, a survey report says 40% of law firms have completely stopped operating, and thousand of lawyers are contemplating leaving the profession permanently because of the crisis. (Le Monde du Droit)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Kirkland & Ellis; Latham & Watkins; and DLA Piper make up the top three for 2019 gross revenues in the latest Am Law 100. The 30 “super rich” firms had almost three times higher revenue growth than the rest of the top 100. (American Lawyer)

  • King & Spalding failed to convince a federal judge to destroy billing records the firm submitted under seal in its petition for fees stemming from a public records lawsuit. (National Law Journal)

  • Male top lawyers got 40% more pay on average than women doing the same in-house legal jobs last year, a new report says. (BLAW)

  • Venture capital financings hit a five-year monthly high in January 2020 only to decline sharply in March as Covid-19 swooped in, a new Fenwick & West “flash” report says. (Fenwick.com)

  • Ripple Labs Inc., represented by Boies Schiller Flexner, sued YouTube LLC in San Francisco federal court yesterday for allegedly failing to stop “scam” channels that impersonate the blockchain company and its president. (BLAW)

  • Indian movie producer Eros International Plc, advised by Gibson Dunn, is merging with U.S. filmmaker STX Entertainment, advised by Kirkland & Ellis and Appleby, in a deal that brings together Bollywood and Hollywood. (Bloomberg News)

Pro Bono

  • The Southern Poverty Law Center, Orrick, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher won a California federal judge’s order for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to promptly review custody procedures for immigrants to consider releasing detainees with higher risk factors for contracting Covid-19. (SPLCenter.org) Meanwhile, the ACLU Northern California and other civil rights groups, and lawyers from Cooley and others, filed a federal class action in San Francisco seeking release of immigrants detained in two ICE facilities. (ACLUnc.org)

Laterals, Moves

  • Months after quitting the U.S. Justice Department, former federal prosecutor Jonathan Kravis joined the attorney general’s office in Washington, D.C., as special counsel for public corruption. (National Law Journal)

  • Clark Hill’s Washington office added litigation and worklaw attorney Jeffrey Lorek as senior counsel. He was previously a U.S. Air Force attorney and prosecutor and arrives most recently from Orrick. (ClarkHill.com)

  • Buchalter added tax attorney Parisa Weiss as special counsel in San Diego in its tax, benefits, & estate planning practice. She arrives from Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek. (Buchalter.com)

In-house

  • Cruise LLC, the driverless vehicle tech company backed by General Motors Co. and SoftBank Group Corp., hired a former U.S. ambassador to Australia to be its new chief legal officer. The new hire, Jeffrey Bleich, is the board chairman of bankrupt Pacific Gas and Electric Co., a former partner and global consulting group chair at Dentons, and partner at Munger Tolles. (BLAW)

  • Private-equity investment firm Harvest Partners hired former Gibson Dunn corporate lawyer Jamie Toothman as general counsel and chief compliance officer. She was most recently senior vice president at Oaktree Capital Management. (PRNewswire.com)

  • California-based pharmaceutical company Zogenix hired industry in-house veteran Shawnte Mitchell as its new general counsel. She was previously top lawyer at Aptevo Therapeutics and earlier in her career was a Ropes & Gray associate. (Corporate Secretary)

Promotions

  • U.K.-based Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer elected 21 new partners (four women) effective May 1, across 12 of its offices, including two each in New York and Washington. (Freshfields.com)

Technology

  • Covid-19 has brought business disruptions for contract tech companies, but also some new opportunities. (Legaltech News)

  • Author Richard Susskind is giving a Harvard Law webinar tomorrow to launch his book “Online Courts and the Future of Justice.” (Harvard.zoom.us)

Legal Education

  • Bar exams don’t ensure lawyer competence, according to some lawyers in Wisconsin, where most in-state law grads don’t need to pass the bar to practice. (ABA Journal)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Darren Bowman at dbowman@bloomberglaw.com

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