Chair: Elliott Portnoy
Total number of lawyers: 662
Total number of partners: 170
Profit per equity partner: £393,000
Main practice areas: Corporate, real estate, litigation
Clients: General Electric, McDonald’s, Royal & SunAlliance, Teva Pharmaceuticals
Locations: Brussels, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, St Louis, San Francisco, Short Hills, Washington DC, West Palm Beach
It is probably the most exciting way a firm could celebrate its centenary: to grow headcount by 25 per cent and to muscle its way into the top 20 US firms. But those are the ambitious plans for 2007 laid out by Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal’s new chairman Elliott Portnoy.
“We concluded that, in order to attract and retain the talent and clients who’ve fuelled our success in the last 100 years, we need to achieve AmLaw 25 revenue,” says Portnoy. That means a turnover of at least $727m (£374m), going by recent statistics – nearly double Sonnenschein’s current takings. Grand plans indeed for the Chicago-headquartered firm that only six years ago laid claim to just 350 lawyers and a revenue of $200m (£103.04m).
The past 12 months have seen Portnoy, the firm’s youngest-ever chairman, and his predecessor Duane Quaini lay foundations for this bold strategy. Practice areas have been overhauled and combined into teams to “build a diverse large-scale firm that can meet our clients’ needs in litigation, corporation and regulatory”, says Portnoy.
For instance, what were freestanding practice areas of energy, environmental, antitrust, international trade, telecoms and franchising, are now all combined as Sonnenschein’s business regulatory group. Heads of these new groups will have more clout in management decisions and the firm’s opening of new offices will be determined by where respective practice areas need new strength. Portnoy is hoping to add two new practice areas by June.
The firm is looking to grow beyond the US, where it currently has 10 offices. London and China are the top priorities for Portnoy (The Lawyer, 8 January). Until then the firm has referral relationships with Ashurst, Lawrence Graham, Taylor Wessing and Travers Smith, among others.
Sonnenschein will be keen to learn lessons from its last London adventure, which ended in a strategic withdrawal in 1999, and to replicate the success of its New York office, which now has 130 lawyers. Even there Portnoy would like to see around 200 lawyers, namely in capital markets, real estate, litigation and corporate. That is still small by New York standards, but the office has been able to stand alone and source important clients such as Teva Pharmaceuticals and Royal & SunAlliance rather than rely on Chicago-originated work.
Perhaps the most telling statement about Sonnenschein’s expansion from its Chicago roots is Portnoy himself: he is the first chair of the firm ever to be based outside Chicago, in the comparatively small Washington DC office.
He has also been with the firm for just four years, arriving from Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. This, too, fits in with the firm’s vision for the future. “I’m 41, I practise a non-traditional area,” explains Portnoy, whose background is public policy and lobbying. “But most significantly I’m a lateral. The fact that the firm chose me as its new chairman, with these characteristics, sends a strong signal to the market on just how much Sonnenschein is prepared to do things differently.”