This September will see the tenth anniversary of Bingham McCutchen’s hire of restructuring partner James Roome.
Back in 2000 Roome’s arrival from Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft was certainly noted, but in true Bingham style it has taken the market a while to realise the full extent of its significance.
In the recent context of US firms’ 2009 financial results, Bingham is among the firms that have most significantly bucked the trend.
Much of that is down to the strategy followed by Bingham since the arrival of Roome, London managing partner, co-chair of the firm’s global financial restructuring group and, in 2000, the US firm’s first English partner.
In some ways the past 12 months have seen a perfect storm for Bingham’s well-hedged and countercyclical-focused practices, in particular its emphasis on restructuring and finance litigation. The English law side of the practice spearheaded by Roome has played a big part in capitalising on the opportunities thrown up by the downturn.
The result? Firmwide, while Bingham’s gross revenue for 2009 was up by 12 per cent, its London office posted a 31.6 per cent increase in turnover to $40.8m (£27.36m).
“Our strategy has been criticised by some for not being fast enough,” says Roome. “But London’s a perfect example of a solid strategy that has grown on solid foundations. It’s been solid, not spectacular.”
The 10-year growth picture for the London office reveals that its revenue has stepped up every year, with a tremendous hike in 2009.
“We didn’t grow in headcount numbers in 2009,” adds Roome, “we were just phenomenally busy.”
Firmwide Bingham did grow, primarily with the 120 lawyers it took from collapsed structured finance boutique McKee Nelson last August.
For a firm that prides itself on a slow and steady approach to growth, this was arguably atypical, a point the firm’s chairman Jay Zimmerman is happy to address.
“In some ways a law firm is like your investment portfolio,” Zimmerman argues. “You might have tremendous returns from certain parts, but you have to rebalance or it will be out of whack. McKee Nelson was an opportunity, but it was also a rebalancing of our portfolio.”
In particular the deal not only added capability to Bingham’s structured transactions practice at a time when that market is hardly hot, it also strengthened the firm’s New York litigation team and beefed up its capabilities in tax, an area the firm hopes will also create opportunities in corporate.
“At Bingham we’re in a constant state of rebalancing,” adds Zimmerman.
It seems to be working.