Duane morris

Formed in 1904, Duane Morris turned 100 the year before last.

Formed in 1904, Duane Morris turned 100 the year before last.

Based in Philadelphia, in Quaker-founded Pennsylvania, the firm claims historical links with Quaker institutions, and to this day has never held a vote.

Governed by a five-person executive committee led by chairman and chief executive officer Sheldon Bonovitz, as well as by a 45-partner board, the firm instead makes decisions via the Quaker system of consensus-building – thus avoiding the politicking common to other firms.

Since Bonovitz’s appointment in 1998, the firm has grown significantly, more than doubling its 235 lawyers through an aggressive programme of lateral hires and mergers – including its January merger with Hancock Rothert Bunshoft, a 60-lawyer litigation, IP and corporate firm based in San Francisco, which also gave Duane Morris a foothold in Los Angeles.

Partner hires in March alone included those of trial lawyer Robert Firriolo from New York-based Mendes & Mount, corporate lawyer John Coogan of Philadelphia-based rival Wolf Block Schorr and Solis-Cohen the week before that, and energy lawyer Jim McTarnaghan to the San Francisco office the same day from California’s Steefel Levitt & Weiss.

Duane Morris’s 619 fee-earners include 170 lawyers in the firm’s trial practice, 110 in corporate finance and 60 in IP, with the rest spread across the areas of employment, energy, environmental, finance, health, insurance, real estate and tax.

Bonovitz says he “believes in institution building and cross-selling”, and a key part of the firm’s plan for this year is to continue enhancing links both between partners and across practice groups. The strategy is already paying dividends, Bonovitz says, with 20 per cent of the firm’s £300m-plus business last year coming via cross-selling between different practice groups and offices.

As well as the firm’s core legal business, Duane Morris also owns a number of ancillary businesses, including a financing company for surgical implants, a financial adviser for private fortunes, a publisher of healthcare training manuals and a provider of medical malpractice insurance.

The firm made its first foray into non-legal business in 1987, when it spent $60,000 (£34,150) launching a business called Westcott Financial Advisory Group. Bonovitz believes the entrepreneurial spirit is attractive to corporate clients.

These are owned by the partnership and turn over approximately £30m a year, but none of the partners is a chief executive. However, a focus in 2006 will be to leverage infrastructure and to create value in the businesses, Bonovitz says, and the firm may also sell some to third parties.

Duane Morris opened its sole international office, in London, four years ago, but is planning to launch in Singapore this year, as first revealed by The Lawyer (3 April). London is co-managed by partners Alexander Geisler, who practises engineering litigation and insurance, and Susan Laws, who handles commercial and M&A. It also has a further six partners, plus one of-counsel and three paralegals.