Exclusive: DLA Piper takes top spot in $24bn global litigation market

The world’s top 50 litigation practices generated a record $24.3bn (£14.9bn) last year, exclusive new data produced by The Lawyer for this year’s Global Litigation Top 50 report has revealed.

DLA Piper has once again claimed the crown of the world’s largest litigation practice by fee income with a 7.9 per cent rise in total disputes revenue to $1.09bn, ahead of second-placed Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom’s $987m.

While DLA Piper secured the top spot in terms of total revenue, the sheer number of lawyers it took to generate that $1bn-plus income is reflected in the average level of fee income by each lawyer, or its revenue per litigation lawyer (RPLL).

On the basis of the numbers produced by The Lawyer (but provided by the firm), DLA Piper’s RPLL was $590,000. Second-placed Skadden’s was more than double that at $1.76m.

DLA Piper’s RPLL shows a drop of 18.1 per cent from $720,000 the previous year, a change that Stephen Sly, the firm’s joint global head of litigation and regulatory, put down to more accurate internal counting of the number of disputes lawyers.

“In last year’s survey we experienced difficulty in identifying the extent of contentious business being conducted outside of our litigation group, with the result that we understated the number of lawyers in the firm undertaking contentious business,” said Sly.

“However, our figures now demonstrate both growth in our top line and a continuing improvement in revenues per lawyer. That in turn reflects the improving quality of mandates we attract as the largest and most diverse litigation and regulatory businesses in the market.”

Baker & McKenzie and WilmerHale both enter this year’s top 10 by total disputes revenue with $653.1m and $624.1m respectively, at the expense of Latham & Watkins and Greenberg Traurig, which slip to 11 and 12 respectively.

More significant falls can be found at Squire Sanders and Mayer Brown, which slip seven and nine places in the table respectively, the biggest falls this year. McDermott Will & Emery and Clifford Chance both drop by four places.

Vinson & Elkins, Debevoise & Plimpton and the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf fall out of this year’s table altogether to be replaced by Boies Schiller & Flexner, Hunton & Williams and Allen & Overy.

The rankings are determined by the amount of revenue a firm generates from its core litigation and arbitration practices worldwide, along with fee income derived from contentious practice groups it might have elsewhere, such as employment, property or construction.

Consequently, the larger a firm is, the higher it is likely to be in the main table. Similarly, the more emphasis a firm is placing strategically on disputes, the more likely it is to have recruited heavily in that area and, again, show a rise through the ranks.

For example, over the past few years Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has been a bellwether for the world’s disputes market, climbing consistently up the rankings from joint 21st in 2008, with a litigation revenue of $385m, to fifth this year at $835.5m.

The firm, which has expanded significantly internationally in recent years with launches in Australia (10 May 2013), Munich (2 August 2013), and Hamburg (1 May 2012) in the past 12 months, posted another double-digit rise in fee income during 2012, the most recent full financial year for the US firms that dominate this list (for UK firms, the financial year under consideration is 2012/13).

The US litigation boutique’s disputes-related fee income rose by 15.4 per cent last year from $724m to $835.5m.

”We continue to have great opportunities come our way globally,” commented Quinn Emanuel founder John Quinn. ”Each of our offices has been the result of an opportunity that came to our attention, rather than some grand plan that we need to cover the world. In a shrinking world, the amount of cross-border disputes work can only continue to grow.”

Further down this year’s table at number 44 comes the first appearance of one of Quinn Emanuel’s biggest rivals, Boies Schiller, with an estimated litigation revenue of $285.3m.

Earlier this year Boies Schiller followed Quinn Emanuel’s lead by launching in the UK, snaring Bingham partner Natasha Harrison to launch its first non-US office (7 October 2013).

Global consolidation and merger activity have clearly had an impact on the rankings. All of this year’s top 15 firms by revenue have a total turnover in excess of $1bn, with several firms, notably DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells and Reed Smith, having added significant extra bulk by lateral hires, bolt-ons and major mergers over the past five years.

But there is no denying the trend over the past five years for litigation and arbitration to take a more central role in many firms’ strategies and therefore for the proportion of firm-wide revenue generated by disputes to increase.

  • The Global Litigation Top 50, which The Lawyer has produced since 2008 and which this year also includes exclusive in-house research, is available for download at www.thelawyer.com/litigationtop50 or via Craig Belson on +44 (0)207 943 8049.