McLaughlin & Stern is the top-ranked new entrant in the 2020 NLJ 500
By Patrick Smith and Dan Packel
Top Ranked New Entrant | McLaughlin & Stern
New York-based McLaughlin & Stern took the title for top-ranked new entrant on the 2020 NLJ 500, debuting at No. 390 on the list. The firm, which has offices in New York, Connecticut and Florida, now has 100 total attorneys in the fold, including 72 partners.
Managing partner Geoffry Handler said the firm's growth over the past several years has been a mix of lateral hires as well as some smaller acquisitions.
Much of that growth has been in Florida, where the firm's wills and trusts practice has hit its stride.
"A lot of our older, wealthy clients were becoming Florida residents," Handler said. "So we opened up an office in Naples and Palm Beach. And those businesses grew."
Handler said that when the firm moved into its current location in Midtown Manhattan in the early 1990s, they were forced to take an extra floor in the building in order to secure the space. The firm then subcontracted out that space to out-of-firm attorneys. Once the firm started to grow, it was able to simply give notice to the out-of-firm lawyers and move in new lateral hires.
And the laterals have been coming, Handler said, partially because of the firm's willingness to hire seasoned attorneys who may have reached mandatory retirement age at some of the larger firms.
"A lot of partners reach retirement age at the big firms, and we take them," Handler said. "They might not be big for Cravath or Wachtell, but they are big for us."
Biggest Movement in the Top 100 | Goodwin Procter and Dinsmore & Shohl
Boston-founded Goodwin Procter and Cincinnati-based Dinsmore & Shohl made the biggest leaps within the top 100 of the NLJ 500. Both firms moved up nine spots in 2019 over 2018. Goodwin, which moved from No. 35 to No. 26 on this year's list, increased its headcount by 14.3%, up to 1091 attorneys from its reported 955 lawyers in 2018 counts.
"As innovation and disruption have become increasingly critical across Goodwin's focus industries [including technology, life sciences and private equity], we have found that our clients have benefited from additional depth across these practices in all of our offices in the United States, Europe and Asia," Robert Insolia, chairman of Goodwin, said in an email.
Dinsmore, which moved from No. 86 to No. 77 in the 2020 rankings, grew its headcount by 16.5%, moving from 544 attorneys in 2018 to 634 last year.
The largest big firm move into the top 100 was made by Florida firm Morgan & Morgan, which moved up 10 spots from No. 104 to No. 94 in this year's rankings.
Boston-based Manning Gross + Massenburg had the biggest overall jump within the NLJ 500 this year, thanks to its merger with southern Illinois-based Kurowski Schultz in January 2019. The firm moved from No. 434 in 2019 to No. 349 in 2020, rising 85 spots.
Biggest Head Count Gains | Berry Appleman & Leiden
Immigration-focused Berry Appleman & Leiden, in its first full year after a much-ballyhooed alliance with Deloitte, grew by a greater margin than any other firm in the NLJ 500 in 2019, increasing its ranks by 40.8%. The firm shed its eight overseas offices in 2018 as part of its tie-up with the Big Four firm, but its U.S. operations are now home to 200 lawyers. "We're on an aggressive growth trajectory," managing partner Jeremy Fudge said in October, when the firm planted its flag in the heart of Silicon Valley with a new Santa Clara office.
Growing nearly as rapidly is mid-Atlantic firm Offit Kurman. The firm expanded by 40.5% in the past year, aided largely by the acquisition of 27 lawyers from Charlotte, North Carolina's Horack, Talley, Pharr & Lowndes. That move gave the firm a new footprint in the southeast.
The list of firms growing the most in absolute numbers is led by one familiar name. Kirkland & Ellis came out on top once again, adding 291 new lawyers in 2019. The firm led the category the previous year as well, with the addition of 310 attorneys.
The firm clearly has been able to keep momentum going, even with Jon Ballis replacing chairman Jeffrey Hammes, the architect of the firm's astounding growth, in February 2019. Kirkland's lateral hires reflect its continued focus on M&A and private equity work. One noteworthy score was the acquisition of a 20-lawyer group from Proskauer Rose in Los Angeles in March 2019 that included several private equity stars.
Biggest Head Count Losses | Norton Rose Fulbright
Norton Rose Fulbright tops the list of the firms that dropped the most lawyers in absolute terms, shedding 109 attorneys. The firm shuttered a Caracas, Venezuela, office and also saw significant exits in several Canadian locations, although numbers in the U.S. remained largely stable. K&L Gates, next on the list, lost 66 attorneys, including clusters of partner defections in Warsaw, Poland; London; Boston; and Pittsburgh, while a noteworthy number of partners have left the firm in Australia already in 2020. Baker & Hostetler, whose presence is limited to the United States, follows the two international giants, with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in fourth place.
Mullen & Filippi, a California-based firm that specializes in workers compensation, shrunk the most significantly on a percentage basis, dropping by 31.9%, to 79 lawyers. Next on this list is national defense litigation firm Hawkins Parnell & Young, which lost 24.1% of its lawyers. And New Jersey-based national firm Bressler, Amery & Ross placed third, losing 20.6%. In 2018, by contrast, Bressler had one of the highest growth rates, increasing its size by nearly 10%.
Managing principal Frank Cuccio said this of the apparent reversal in trajectory. "Over the past 18 months, Bressler has implemented the initial phases of its long-term strategic business plan designed to focus on our core practice areas, make work processes more efficient, and support client-service initiatives," he said.