US financial results reflect recovering economy

Martin Bartlam

Orrick Herrington & ­Sutcliffe, Morrison & Foerster (MoFo) and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal all unveiled figures that confirm the darkest days of the recession are over – at least in the legal market and for those lawyers who still have jobs.

MoFo’s revenue dropped by 3 per cent to $884m (£545.55m), while Orrick’s total turnover for 2009 was up by 2 per cent to $847.5m. Global average profit per equity partner (PEP) at Orrick rose by 3 per cent to $1.3bn.

Orrick’s global performance came off a tough year, with ­London managing partner Martin Bartlam saying the firm had performed “extremely well”.

The London office’s revenue hit £24.54m, a sterling increase of 18 per cent, although just a 1 per cent rise when converted to dollars.

Bartlam said the total ­figure reached $40.5m when revenue for lawyers based in the City, but with billings booked out of Orrick’s international offices, was factored in.

“It turned out to be a good year in the end,” says ­Bartlam. “The first part of 2009 was very slow – ­utilisation levels were low. But we took many of our cost-cutting measures [including a redundancy round in March], reviewing all of our expenses, early on. On the whole utilisation was back up significantly by the end of the year.”

WilmerHale has also reported its results, posting a 1.5 per cent drop in revenue to $941m but a 7 per cent rise in PEP to $1.1m.

In a statement the firm says that, during the “unforgiving economic climate” that had called into question “long-held assumptions about the law firm business model”, WilmerHale had made decisions that, “while very difficult, enabled us to emerge from one of the toughest years on record in a stronger position”.

For its part, Sonnenschein achieved the remarkable feat of posting a total revenue that was all but flat at $472.5m despite making one of the largest lawyer acquisitions of last year when it took on around 100 lawyers from the collapsed Thacher Proffitt & Wood.