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‘Reloaded, but not in time’: Dechert defends revenue and profit dip as Mayer Brown inches past $1.5bn turnover

As the financial reporting season for Global 100 firms gathers pace, some less eye-catching financial results have emerged, with Dechert seeing a 6% revenue and profit reversal and Mayer Brown growing turnover only marginally to exceed $1.5bn.

Mayer Brown grew global revenue a sedate 2% to $1.52bn from just shy of $1.5bn last year when the firm recorded 7% revenue growth, while revenue per lawyer saw a slight 1% dip to $900,000 in 2020. Profit per equity partner (PEP) numbers were more heartening, climbing 11% to $2m from $1.8m in 2019 in the context of a 2% uptick in partners to 657 from 646 last year. Total lawyer headcount increased 3% to 1,685 from 1,632 in 2019.

Chairman Paul Theiss was bullish despite the slower pace of growth, commenting:  ‘For Mayer Brown, 2020 was first and foremost about taking care of our clients as their trusted adviser and business partner, and about taking care of one another and our families during a difficult year. Against that backdrop, from a financial standpoint 2020 marked our eighth consecutive year of revenue growth, with a 75% increase in PEP during that period.’

Mayer Brown does not divulge its City performance. However, London managing partner Sally Davies noted that the office held up well and made a ‘significant contribution to the firm’s global results’.

Speaking to Legal Business recently, Davies was bullish about the office’s strategy and lateral additions in a challenging year. ‘We are quite clear on strategy, it hasn’t changed as a result of the pandemic. We are focused on finance, private equity, complex, high-stakes disputes, white collar and investigations. The addition of Trevor Borthwick from Allen & Overy has added gravitas to our banking and finance team.’

She also pointed to the hire of transactional real estate partner Simon Price from Linklaters and restructuring partner Barry Cosgrave from K&L Gates, all of whom she says have hit the ground running.

Davies was characteristically upbeat and insisted there are upsides to the coronavirus crisis. ‘My personal ambition is to not lose the positives we’ve gained and not to drift back to where we were before. In terms of ESG, we didn’t really need to do so much travel. The compensation process was more efficient by doing it remotely. I’m hopeful it will change the way we do business development so that we are more focused on what clients want and not what we think they want.’

Elsewhere, Dechert experienced a tougher year, revealing a 5.7% revenue drop in 2020 to $1.07bn from $1.14bn as PEP declined in kind to $2.8m from $3m in 2019. RPL saw a 4% decrease to $1.12m from $1.17m last year, as the number of equity partners remained flat at 154 and total lawyer headcount stood at  960 compared with 974 in 2019.

Dechert CEO Henry Nassau nevertheless defended the firm’s position: ‘We have seen 10 years of steady growth at an average annual rate of 5%. 2019 stood out with 11% revenue growth. 2020 was the third year with revenue greater than $1bn. The second half of 2020 was spectacular and this continued through into early 2021, with year-to-date revenue up 12%, and billings are up 16%. The 2020 drag was caused for a couple of reasons in the first half of the year. Over 20 matters were postponed due to court closures and two huge litigation matters drew to a close at the same time. We reloaded, but not in time for the snapshot when these figures were taken.’

The firm globally has won a number of significant mandates, including advising Cerberus on its private equity strategy in the US, Europe and Asia, including the sale of Covis to Apollo. It also counts KKR as a key client across real estate finance, asset-backed and fund finance, private equity, permanent capital, tax and litigation.

Dechert has made a concerted effort to bolster its financial restructuring group of late, with heavyweight Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Adam Plainer joining as global co-chair of the group on 1 March. The firm also added London Shearman & Sterling restructuring partners Solomon Noh and Alastair Goldrein in 2020.