US financial results ’03: Kirkland, Weil, Simpson have record years

Bankruptcy, litigation and private equity were the key drivers of growth for US firms in 2003, with Kirkland & Ellis and Weil Gotshal & Manges starring in The Lawyer’s poll of US law firms’ preliminary accounts.

Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis had a storming year, boosting turnover by 16 per cent to $709m (£374.8m) on the back of those three booming practice areas. The firm worked on the United Airlines and Conseco bankruptcies and a string of acquisitions for private equity houses Bain Capital and Vestar Capital Partners. Despite the workload, profits rose just 5.5 per cent to $1.9m ($1m) per partner, as the firm increased bonuses for associates and junior partners.

Weil Gotshal continues to rake in fees from the Enron and MCI WorldCom sagas. Total revenues are up 16.5 per cent to $801m (£428m), but it is in Europe that revenues have shot up 23 per cent to $250m (£139.1m).

Part of Weil Gotshal’s European revenue rise can be attributed to the addition of French merger partner Serra Leavy & Cazals for the first full financial year. It was a good year too, with multi-billion dollar deals for General Electric and Vivendi Universal. But France cannot take all the credit.

Weil Gotshal’s London managing partner Mike Francies continues to blaze a trail. Last year saw his work ranging from more acquisitions for private equity house Hicks Muse Tate & Furst to West LB’s joint financing with Lehman Brothers for the purchase of the Odeon cinema group.

White & Case is right on track to smash its target of $1bn (£529m) in revenues by 2005, according to its preliminary accounts.

The New York firm has recorded the biggest increase in turnover among the US firms polled, up 20 per cent to $811m (£428.8m). If it can match those figures in 2004 and 2005 it will smash its target, but a repeat performance will see it fall way short of its ambitions for profitability.

White & Case’s profits per partner are up 8 per cent to $1.01m (£534,000) per partner. Another two years at that rate would see the firm fall $220,000 (£116,000) short of its aim of $1.3m (£687,000) per partner.

Bryan Cave: 2003 was a stormer
St Louis-based Bryan Cave has had a phenomenal year with profitability rocketing 35 per cent from $445,000 (£235,000) to $600,000 (£317,000) per equity partner.

Turnover has also grown an impressive 13.9 per cent to $384m (£203m). A large chunk of this rise can be attributed to the success fee the firm received from Biomedical Systems after the firm won a contract dispute against GE Medical Systems. That alone accounted for about $100,000 (£53,000) per partner, a total of approximately $31m (£16.4m).

Bryan Cave’s chairman Walter Metcalfe echoed the feelings of many when he said that the litigation and bankruptcy practices remained strong throughout the year and noted the upturn in transactional work in the fourth quarter.

The firm also began to collect the fruits of its July 2002 merger with 180-lawyer New York firm Robinson Silverman.


US firms by global turnover
Rank Firm Global turnover Change (%) Profits per partner $K (£K) Change (%)
1 Skadden Arps 1,554 (822) 18.6 1,690 (894) 5
2 Baker & McKenzie 1,134 (600) 7.0 595 (315) 0
3 Latham & Watkins 1,030 (545) 13.7 1,273 (673) 11.7
4 Jones Day 985 (521) 8.5 924 (489) 5.0
5 Sidley Austin Brown & Wood 926 (490) 11.4 895 (473) 9.8
6 Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw 825 (436) 17.0 767 (406) 5
7 White & Case 811 (429) 20.1 1,010 (534) 8.0
8 Weil Gotshal & Manges 801 (428) 16.5 1,500 793) 15.4
9 Shearman & Sterling 730 (386) 4.3 1,350 (714) 5.9
10 Kirkland & Ellis 709 (375) 16.0 1,900 (1,004) 5.5

10 TO WATCH
McDermott Will & Emery 665 (352) 5.9 1,110 (587) 3.7
O´Melveny & Myers 658 (348) 16.5 1,280 (677) 15.3
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher 645 (341) 13.4 1,370 (724) 15.6
Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett 587 (310) 8.0 1,940 (1,026) 5.0
Hogan & Hartson 550 (291) 14.6 590 (312) 0
Morrison & Foerster 540 (291) 6.9 740 (391) 6
Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker 537 (284) 10.0 1,060 (560) 13.0
Vinson & Elkins 440 (233) -3.6 704 (372) 10.0
Pillsbury Winthrop 424 (224) 1.9 746 (394) 5.1
Bryan Cave 384 (203) 13.9 600 (317) 34.8
Source: The Lawyer