Kirkland & Ellis has added $680m to its top line to trounce Latham & Watkins yet again as the world’s highest-grossing law firm, as global turnover surged 16% to $4.83bn.
The Chicago-bred giant had a significant uptick in private equity work to thank for its stellar 2020 results, which saw revenue surge from $4.15bn in 2019.
Profit per equity partner (PEP) hit $6.2m, up 19% on the $5.2m for 2019 even as Kirkland’s headcount grew 5% in 2020 to 2,725 lawyers. Revenue per lawyer increased 11% from $1.6m to around $1.8m.
The firm does not disclose regional breakdowns but London is believed to have substantially outpaced global growth at around 29%, growing revenue from $425m to roughly $550m.
The private equity bonanza came as dealmakers made up for lost time after a hiatus in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, while restructuring, M&A and litigation all performed well.
Kirkland was noticeably more frugal on the lateral partner front in London in 2020, only adding one to its partnership in the form of Linklaters tax lawyer Mavnick Nerwal. However, the firm is unsurprisingly still the market leader in the number of promotions it makes, year after year smashing its own records.
Kirkland’s culture is underpinned by an unusual model that sees large ranks of salaried partners made up before being admitted to its tightly-held equity. Operating a fast-track system, associates can make salaried partner six years after qualification – bucking the wider trend of pushing back promotions. In that vein, 19 lawyers were made up, including three lateral promotions, a number which far outstripped the conservative market at large.
Observers have grown accustomed to the two-horse race between Kirkland and Latham to become the world’s highest grossing law firm. Last month, Latham reported its third consecutive year of double-digit growth as its revenue surged 15% to $4.33bn and PEP hit $4.52m. Latham’s 20% uptick in London turnover meant the City office now generates in the region of $540m.