The Lawyer’s annual litigation top 50, as revealed in last week’s issue (7 December), is proof that, while it might not be a tidal wave, litigation is definitely on the up.
The majority of firms saw increases in the revenue derived from contentious matters over the most recent financial year (calendar year 2008 for US firms and as late as summer 2009 for UK practices).
Measured by practice group revenue, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom secured first place with a total fee income from contentious work topping $1bn (£610m).
Skadden global head of litigation David Zornow points to the firm’s hire of three partners and 10 associates from Clifford Chance late in 2008 as further evidence of the current demand for contentious lawyers at the firm.
“Skadden might have originally developed its reputation in M&A, particularly overseas, where the offices used to be almost exclusively transactional, but litigation’s been very busy for several years at Skadden,” Zornow says. “It’s a very significant driver of the practice.”
Total revenue is of course just one indicator of success. Using revenue per lawyer (RPL) as a metric we can see which firms were arguably the true winners in 2008.
Cravath Swaine & Moore is ranked first, with an RPL of $1.72m, while impressively Gibson Dunn & Crutcher secured second place with an RPL of $1.63m.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was the only UK firm to make the top 10 - ranked seventh with an RPL of $1.15m - and one of only five UK firms to make the top 50 on total revenue.
Indeed, the magic circle firm has invested heavily into transatlantic litigation. Last year it launched a US litigation team, hiring a partner trio from Covington & Burling and Willkie Farr & Gallagher.
During the summer Freshfields again strengthened its team, hiring former deputy general counsel and director of litigation at Bank of America David Onorato.
If anything, Freshfields’ moves only serve to highlight the gulf between the litigation capabilities of the top US and UK firms.
Even next year’s probable merger between Lovells and Hogan & Hartson will do little to change that.