Until 2018 Latham & Watkins proudly held the title of ‘world’s largest law firm’ by total revenue. In February it made legal market history by becoming the first law firm in the world to surpass the $3bn revenue mark after growth of nearly 9 per cent in 2017. Precisely one month later, the good news stopped. The firm with the West Coast heritage and carefully cultivated inclusive culture took one of the biggest body blows in recent memory when in
Until 2018 Latham & Watkins proudly held the title of ‘world’s largest law firm’ by total revenue. In February it made legal market history by becoming the first law firm in the world to surpass the $3bn revenue mark after growth of nearly 9 per cent in 2017. Precisely one month later, the good news stopped.
The firm with the West Coast heritage and carefully cultivated inclusive culture took one of the biggest body blows in recent memory when in March 2018 its global chairman Bill Voge stepped down, citing conduct “not befitting the leader of the firm” after admitting to a series of explicit communications with a woman unconnected to the firm. Voge, until then one of the firm’s most respected lawyers, will now be remembered for propelling Latham & Watkins into its first major public scandal.
The irony is that Voge is also one of the lawyers who has been instrumental in Latham & Watkins’s path to its globally dominant position. During his predecessor, Bob Dell’s 20-year tenure, the firm’s turnover rose from $262m in 1995 to $2.2bn in 2014 while its international platform shifted from 11 offices to 31 outposts scattered around the world.
Voge, an American who has been based in London since 1990, continued with strategy. Indeed, his knowledge of both the New York and London legal markets underlined the now well-trodden path to success of having a strong platform in Manhattan combined with another in the City. That cross-border clout was unquestioned until 2018.
Partly this is because there have been few blips on Latham & Watkins’s seemingly inexorable rise and there is little doubt that the firm will weather this storm. In most of the world’s key financial centres across the US, Europe and Asia, and particularly in the legal market strongholds of New York and London, the Latham brand continues to be among the best known and easiest (according to recruiters) to hire for. The firm’s global reach is also highlighted by the number of cross-border mandates on which it acts, with Latham & Watkins’s top 25 clients in 2018 using it in 21 offices on average and its top 50 clients calling for support across 19 offices. No one seriously expects that to change as a result of Voge’s unceremonious exit.
Globally Latham & Watkins made 34 lateral hires in 2017 and in a typically buoyant hiring market saw six new joiners announced in London over the same period. It recruited Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partners David Berman and Martin Davies in July and January respectively, while Ian Felstead joined from legacy Olswang.
Latham & Watkins also brought in Hogan Lovells financial disputes duo Jon Holland and Andrea Monks at the start of the year while its biggest lateral hire globally was that of DLA Piper co-chair Juan Picon in Madrid; a move that saw two other corporate partners also decamp for the US firm’s Spanish office.
There have, nevertheless, been a few exits on the partner side. Former Carlyle Group in-houser Tom Alabaster joined Linklaters’ funds team as a partner, while London litigation chair Simon Bushell left for Signature Litigation.
In the US, one of Latham & Watkins’s top rivals Kirkland hired the firm’s global co-chair of private equity Jennifer Perkins.