Top US firms show good results

THE Top 100 US law firms have shown an across the board upturn of nearly five per cent, following a three-year period of slow growth.

But the positive numbers conceal extremes within the US legal market, according to American Lawyer magazine.

For those firms which reported positive results in 1994 it was a good year. For those who failed to make the 'A' list, it was very bad.

American Lawyer editor John Morris said: “For 1994 the magazine's Top 100 reports on a year of extremes. The biggest surprise is that not every law firm was carried along by the rising tide of the [US] economy.”

Among the losers last year were five law firms which collapsed. Under pressure from years of a flat economy and the continuing competition for clients, the five firms, along with 150 lawyers, opted for dissolution.

The five are New York-based Shea & Gould, Lord Day Lord and Bower & Gardner, Dallas firm Johnson & Wortley and San Francisco's Petit & Martin.

Prominent New York practice Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon has also entered the ranks of troubled firms. The practice witnessed a 35.4 per cent drop in profits per partner during 1994 and suffered a series of major defections.

In contrast, 1994's law firm leaders made profits more akin to those in the 1980s. Top grossing firm Skadden Arps Meagher & Flom, which chalked up $582,000,000 in gross revenue, enjoyed a commanding position in the financial services market.

The firm reclaimed pole position in the gross revenue chart, toppling Chicago-based rival Baker & McKenzie which has dominated the list for the past two years.

For Skadden, its number one position represents a 21.6 per cent growth rate throughout the past year. The firm's managing partner said there is no single secret to the firm's staggering growth, but it can be attributed to the maturing of its international offices and increases in litigation, product liability and energy work.

The same names fill the top places, after benefiting from a resurgence in merger and acquisition work.

Although New York firms continue to dominate the top ranks, other centres are making their mark.

In California, firms staged a minor comeback after years labelled as one of the nation's trouble spots.

Three Los Angeles firms recorded strong results, including Latham & Watkins, which showed a 10 per cent increase per lawyer.

Chicago also scored well. Apart from number two Baker & McKenzie, the city's top scorers included Mayer Brown & Platt, Sidley & Austin and Kirkland & Ellis.