Legal Business Blogs

Kirkland remains world’s highest-grossing law firm in becoming first to surpass $4bn

Kirkland & Ellis has added $390m to its top line to trounce Latham & Watkins once again as the world’s highest-grossing law firm, as global turnover surged to $4.15bn.

The Chicago-bred giant today (18 March) revealed results for the 2019 financial year, revealing a 10% hike in revenue from $3.76bn last year. Profit per equity partner (PEP) reached $5.2m, up 3% on the $5.04m for 2018. Kirkland’s head count grew 13% in 2019 with revenue per lawyer dropping 2% to $1.6m from $1.63m the previous year.

The firm did not disclose regional breakdowns but London is believed to have slightly outpaced global growth at around 12%, growing revenue from around $380m to $425m.

The stellar year has been on the back of thrusting fund formation, restructuring and transactional private equity practices. Kirkland also last year unveiled its largest partner promotion round ever seen by a top legal practice, making up 141 partners, including 16 in the City. The move was an increase of 19 on the previous year’s eye-catching 122-strong round, with the hefty numbers of promotions a statement of intent that moving lawyers up the ranks internally remains a mainstay of the firm’s strategy.

Kirkland has an unusual model in that it makes up large ranks of salaried partners before considering promotions 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. Last year’s promotion round meant the firm had made up 531 partners in the last five years.

The Chicago-bred giant now has more than 350 lawyers in London and has forged something of a private equity powerhouse operating across Europe. It started 2019 on a high when it lured the much sought-after private equity partner Adrian Maguire from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. The high-profile hire paid dividends last month when Maguire acted for long-standing client Cinven for the first time since making the move, along with Advent International and the RAG foundation, on their €17.2bn acquisition of Thyssenkrupp’s elevator business.

Kirkland’s success also comes on the back of a number of bumper lead mandates including on the $63bn acquisition of Allergan by US biopharmaceutical company AbbVie and the acquisition underpinning the $90bn merger between Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgene.

Observers have grown accustomed to the two-horse race between Kirkland and Latham to attain the status as the world’s highest grossing law firm. Last month, Latham reported its second consecutive year of double-digit growth as its revenue surged to $3.77bn in 2019 while profit per equity partner (PEP) hit $3.78m.