Revealed: the firms making the most money in global litigation

Exclusive research by The Lawyer highlights the US-UK litigation gulf as only four UK law firms reach the top 50 turnover league.

Revealed: the firms making the most money in global litigationThe international firms best positioned to ­capitalise on the expected upsurge in cross-border ­litigation and arbitration can be revealed today in exclusive research by The Lawyer.

For the first time the world’s largest firms have been ranked in order of the litigation revenue they generate. The figures reveal the largest litigation practices at the leading US and UK-headquartered firms and illustrate which have placed most strategic importance on building international disputes capabilities.

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom tops the table. The US firm generated more ;revenue ;from ­litigation, arbitration and disputes than any other firm in the world last year.

In 2007 contentious ­matters at Skadden brought in ;$901m ;(£450m) ;– approximately 45 per cent of the firm’s $2bn (£1bn) firmwide revenue.

In what is arguably a more revealing yardstick than total revenue, Skadden’s revenue per lawyer (RPL) was $1.33m (£665,000), a figure that sees its ranking drop to the number five spot. In contrast, New York elite firm Cravath Swaine & Moore snared the top spot both for RPL and revenue per partner (RPP), posting $1.69m (£845,000) and $8.45m (£4.22m) respectively.

In a table dominated by US firms, the research underlines the sheer size of the US litigation market as well as the impact of the split profession on UK law firms’ litigation revenues.

Tony Williams of Jomati said: “The table clearly ­illustrates the real diversity between US and UK firms when it comes to litigation”. (Continues below).

(For more on the top 50 transatlantic firms by revenue per lawyer, click here).

Earlier this year The Lawyer reported that Allen & Overy (A&O) senior partner David Morley had vowed to make his firm, “the most successful of the emerging global elite” (1 September 2008). Morley said at the time that one of the core planks of that ambition was to increase the size of A&O’s litigation ­practice significantly, from around 10 per cent of global turnover to 15 per cent over four years.

Today’s table illustrates that even achieving that level of growth would leave A&O trailing in the disputes wake of the majority of its US rivals’.

Only four UK firms – ­Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith and A&O – made it into the top 50, with litigation ;revenues ;of £199m, £177m, £151m and £122m respectively.

Those results left the UK four in nineteenth, 27th, 35th and 46th places ­respectively. Three of the four did significantly better in terms of RPL (with A&O jumping 38 places to eighth, Freshfields rising to fourteenth and Herbert Smith 18 places higher at number 17). Only Clifford Chance failed to better its position in the RPL rankings, with a drop to 43nd place.

Other UK firms with ­significant litigation practices, including Linklaters, Lovells and Clyde & Co (which registered global ­litigation revenues of £111m, £105m and £102m respectively for the last financial year), failed to make the top 50.

A&O global litigation head Tim House said: “The US is by far the largest and most litigious legal market in the world, so you’d expect US-based firms to have built the largest domestic ­litigation departments.

“Recognising the factors that make litigation such an important part of a US firm, we added a top-tier US ­litigation team to our New York practice just over five years ago, and the continued development of that is a key component of our growth strategy.”

In contrast to the performances of the majority of UK firms, several firms that were outside the US top 50 last year when ranked by firmwide revenue made ­significant showings in the litigation table. They include disputes boutique Quinn Emanuel, Howrey and Kaye Scholer.

The figures, which were based on 2007’s financial results for the US firms and the 2007-08 results for UK firms, are revealed as many litigators are predicting a surge in cross-border litigation. Despite the projected upturn, a number of firms are currently struggling with low levels of disputes work in certain areas.

Last month Clifford Chance made 20 litigation associates in its New York and Washington DC offices redundant because of what it described as “sluggishness in litigation matters”.

For more on litigation, read our features on the litigation strategies of the global elite and the London development of US players Gibson Dunn and Debevoise & Plimpton, plus our interview with Paul Weiss’s Brad Karp.

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