Legal Business

Legal Business Awards 2020 – US Law Firm of the Year

Legal Business Awards 2020 – US Law Firm of the Year

The entries have been assessed and our research completed: we are now delighted to reveal our US Law Firm of the Year for the 2020 Legal Business Awards.

This award highlights the US firm that has made the greatest progress over the past year in advancing its strategy, improving financial performance and winning instructions, particularly in the City. A large international presence is not a prerequisite for consideration for this award, although the judges will be looking for strong evidence of success in those foreign markets where the firm has offices.

 


 

 


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Winner – Latham & Watkins

Latham impressed the judges to beat rivals in this category after posting a second consecutive year of double-digit growth; a revenue surge to $3.768bn in 2019 and profit per equity partner of $3.78m. If that wasn’t enough, London growth exceeded the global rate, with the City office standing out as one the most potent European practices of any US player.

That growth continued against a backdrop of sustained investment in lateral hires for strategic practices and markets was a testament to the firm’s dominant position. Of 22 lateral hires globally, transactional and disputes hires in London included Victoria Sander, an insurance M&A partner from Linklaters; real estate partner Neil Ferguson from Jones Day; Jeremiah Wagner, a structured finance specialist from Cadwalader; antitrust and competition partner David Little from Cleary ; Chris Horton, capital markets, from Simmons & Simmons; and Patrick Mitchell, entertainment, sports & media from DLA Piper.

Noteworthy mandates included Spotify’s groundbreaking direct listing on the NYSE, advising the lead committee of creditors of Steinhoff on a €9bn restructuring, EQT on the financing for the negotiations to acquire Nestlé Skin Health for $10.2bn and advising CPPIB in the £4.77bn acquisition of Merlin, then the biggest ever take-private deal in the UK.

Since 2000, Latham has donated more than 3.5 million hours of legal services, worth $1.6bn, pro bono, while last year 93% of its lawyers worked on pro bono matters, with 14,000 hours donated in London across 95 new matters, including improving the legal outlook for stateless persons.

Latham earmarked London as a strategic opportunity some time ago and has been building its strength across all major practice groups in line with the vision. ‘The league table positions the firm occupies, the deals it has done, the clients it has won, and the prominent partners it has attracted are all testament to its continued growth and success in one of the most world’s most competitive legal markets,’ the firm declared.

Highly Commended – Paul Hastings

In 2019, Paul Hastings’ London arm built on its impressive track record of high-profile lateral hires, acquiring Steven Bryan from Hogan Lovells. Meanwhile, former London office head Ronan O’Sullivan was made global managing partner of the firm last year, underlining the key role London plays for this US powerhouse.

In October 2019, Paul Hastings moved into its new London office, taking the top two floors of 100 Bishopsgate, testament to the firm’s headcount and revenue doubling in the past five years.

Other highlights include Paul Hastings’ CSR and diversity work, as well as marquee mandates including advising CashEuroNet UK and US parent company Enova International on QuickQuid’s administration and the arrangers on a $3bn finance package underpinning Bain’s acquisition of Kantar from WPP.

Other nominations

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Akin Gump has built on its dramatic growth in the City in recent years since its acquisition of Bingham McCutchen’s London practice in 2014 with another solid financial year in 2019, with London revenue up to over $125m against a global revenue increase of 6% from $1.07bn to $1.135bn.

Cooley

Cooley’s London branch recorded another year of sharp revenue growth as its City outpost outpaced the West Coast firm’s global revenue growth for the third consecutive year in 2019, rising 9% to $72.9m just five years after its launch.

Goodwin Procter

In another robust year for Boston’s Goodwin, its ever-expansive City arm has seen turnover lift 11% to $74m amid a year of aggressive investment. Notably, the firm’s City lateral tally since the start of 2019 also stood at 11, chiefly in the tech practice, and mainly from rival in the space, Taylor Wessing.

Milbank

London outpaced global growth at Milbank, with revenue reaching $171.2m in the last financial year, an increase of 10% on $156m in 2018. Over the last five years, Milbank has upped City revenue an impressive 55%.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

Disputes heavyweight Quinn has continued its impressive growth in the City, with 2019 revenue at the firm’s London office increasing 20% to £100.6m. The firm also saw profits rise 11% to £67.2m, putting the office’s profit margin at 67% and cementing its place as a market leader among litigation-only practices in London.

 

 

Legal Business

Comment: Latham vs Kirkland means everyone else loses – They own the global elite now

Comment: Latham vs Kirkland means everyone else loses – They own the global elite now

Skadden Arps, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and, currently, Kirkland & Ellis – over the last 30 years these firms have all at one time had claims to have been the most influential law firms of their age, the pioneers that defined the top of the profession through dash, ambition and imagination.

And many senior lawyers would think that list is missing the name of the institution that looked unchallenged until the Kirkland effect gripped the market in the last three years.

That firm is Latham & Watkins, the Los Angeles-bred giant whose ascent was as predictable and well trailed as Kirkland’s was rude and disruptive. With a history of strong leadership, strategic clarity and an envied culture, its rise seemed unstoppable.

While no one expects the firm to dominate big-ticket deal work reserved for rarefied sections of Manhattan, on the wider international stage, spanning key hubs in the US and Europe, Latham was the pace-setter for global law through most of the 2010s.

Yet Latham enters the 2020s in a more ambiguous position than expected a few years back. That is partly due to the loss of its managing partner in 2018 under surreal circumstances that badly undercut Latham’s slick image. But the far more substantive issue has been the relentless challenge of Kirkland in many of its core markets, a campaign that has seen the Chicago outfit outstrip Latham in revenue, growth and profitability. Even worse, Kirkland is now regarded as a more potent performer in a number of Latham’s marquee business lines like leveraged finance, private equity and restructuring.

The fierce competition with Kirkland is concentrating minds in what is emerging as a more hard-edged outfit under the leadership of Richard Trobman.

For a firm that had forgotten how to play defence, this came as a shock and there is no doubt that a minority of Latham partners would like a more individualistic approach that responded more directly to the threat of Kirkland and its $10m-plus offers for rainmakers.

Other questions remain for a firm whose many strengths and sheer brand power often obscures its flaws. In public M&A, the firm’s US business remains patchier than the sales pitch, with a bench too shallow and lacking younger stars. Neither is it as apparent that Latham’s bond-centric, bank-heavy business is quite the asset it used to be. It is also debatable if even as an outfit as institutionally robust as Latham has been able to fill the vacuum left by the 2015 departure of Bob Dell, one of high-end law’s most revered leaders.

None of which changes the conclusion that Latham 2020 remains a singularly formidable outfit that will not be dislodged from the upper reaches of the global market anytime soon. If anything, the fierce competition with Kirkland is concentrating minds in what is emerging as a more hard-edged outfit under the leadership of Richard Trobman.

That shift will fall far short of reinventing Latham in Kirkland’s image. Despite common ground of strong leadership, expansive vision and an affinity for lev fin, these beasts are polls apart in culture and model, with Latham far more diversified and team-oriented than its buccaneering rival. But that also means that for broader-service work to major plcs, in many European markets Latham is still a more ominous threat for London rivals than Kirkland. Between them, with their collective City revenues closing in on $1bn, the pair are leaving precious little space for rivals. In short, global law in the 2020s belongs to this pair, everyone else is just along for the ride.

alex.novarese@legalease.co.uk

Click here for our feature on Latham & Watkins, ‘Heavy hangs the crown’

Legal Business

Heavy hangs the crown – Can Latham remain the global firm to beat?

Heavy hangs the crown – Can Latham remain the global firm to beat?

Early March 2018 looked like the best of times to be a lawyer at Latham & Watkins. At the end of February the Los Angeles-bred giant had become the first law firm to report revenues above $3bn. This distinction crowned two decades in which it had been the most upwardly mobile firm in BigLaw, smoothly transitioning from West Coast challenger to global trailblazer, upsetting established hierarchies in New York and London along the way.

But by the end of the month, its 700 partners spread across 30 offices throughout the world were to get an email summoning them to a conference call. Latham’s two vice-chairs Richard Trobman and Ora Fisher informed the global partnership that the firm’s executive committee had accepted the resignation of global chair and managing partner, William Voge. Only three years into his role, Voge was leaving with immediate effect following a series of ‘voluntary disclosures’ relating to personal conduct.

Legal Business

Legal 500 Data: Behind the story

Legal 500 Data: Behind the story

The Legal 500 : Latham & Watkins focus

The success of Latham & Watkins’ expansion globally in recent years is backed up by Legal 500 data. Fifty-seven of its practices have achieved top-tier rankings globally across The Legal 500 in 2019/20, compared to 40 in 2014-15. While only one of these 17 new top-tier rankings is in the UK, the firm’s growing dominance in London is still supported by the UK Legal 500 data.

Legal Business

Latham vs K&E means that everyone else loses

Latham vs K&E means that everyone else loses

Skadden Arps, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and, currently, Kirkland & Ellis – over the last 30 years these firms have all at one time had claims to have been the most influential law firms of their age, the pioneers that defined the top of the profession through dash, ambition and imagination.

And many senior lawyers would think that list is missing the name of the institution that looked unchallenged until the Kirkland effect gripped the market in the last three years.

Legal Business

Latham and Hogan Lovells move to remote working globally amid alarming coronavirus spread

Latham and Hogan Lovells move to remote working globally amid alarming coronavirus spread

Latham & Watkins and Hogan Lovells have become the latest law firms to ramp up their response to the increasingly global spread of COVID-19 by sending all their staff home.

The news comes as the number of casualties continues to rise around the world, with the latest figures reporting over 200,000 confirmed cases while the death toll has passed 8,000. 

Latham confirmed today (18 March) that its staff is working remotely across all the 2,270-lawyer firm’s 30 global offices.

Chief operating officer LeeAnn Black said in a statement: ‘Except where a jurisdiction has moved to a lockdown, our offices around the world remain physically open although the vast majority of our lawyers and professional staff are working remotely.’

Hogan Lovells also confirmed that the firm has moved to remote working globally.

The 2,642-lawyer transatlantic firm extended yesterday the measure to its UK, American and Australian offices, while its continental European outposts had already been working remotely since earlier in the month.

A spokesperson for the firm said in a statement: ‘We tested our remote working capabilities in the US last week and the UK and Europe this week, and had successful results.’ They added that the firm was ‘confident that we have the tools in place to conduct our business as usual’.

A number of firms have moved to similar arrangements over the last few days, including City firms Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May and Allen & Overy as well as transatlantic firm Eversheds Sutherland.

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

‘Building on the momentum’: Latham appoints banking veteran Kensell as London head

‘Building on the momentum’: Latham appoints banking veteran Kensell as London head

Latham & Watkins’ executive committee has appointed Stephen Kensell as London managing partner, just four years after he joined from Allen & Overy (A&O).

The appointment, effective yesterday (5 March), sees the banking veteran take over from fellow finance partner Jay Sadanandan, who leaves the post after five years.

Alongside London deputy managing partner Catherine Drinnan, who has been re-appointed, Kensell (pictured) will be responsible for setting and implementing the office’s strategy alongside ExCom.

It is the latest in a long list of management roles held by Kensell, one of the most senior banking lawyers in the City. He co-headed A&O’s own banking group alongside Andrew Trahair between 2008 and 2016 and took over as Latham’s banking vice chair in February last year following the departure of Chris Kandel to Morrison & Foerster.

‘I have always combined the managing partner role with a full practice, which is what I will be doing here,’ Kensell told Legal Business. Except for the firm’s chair Rich Trobman and the two vice chairs, very few of Latham’s partners in management roles get any discount on billable hour targets.

Discussing his strategy for the office, Kensell said: ‘For us it’s about continuing to build on the momentum. We are the second largest office of the firm and we see future growth.’

One of the priorities in London is to build out its public M&A practice and Kensell stressed the importance of combining lateral hiring with organic growth: ‘One of the hallmarks of the mature practice we have is that we are attracting fantastic laterals but also we have a fantastic group of associates. A really important part of the plan is bringing through our London associates and we are starting to see people who trained at the firm make partner here.’

Decided by the firm’s nine-member key executive arm after soundings with the partnership, terms of London managing partners are flexible but they are normally expected to stay on for three to five years.

The appointment of Kensell’s predecessor Sadanandan in 2015 was touted as a significant move in the firm’s efforts to improve gender diversity in its management ranks under former chair Bill Voge. Latham’s largest office – its 515-lawyer New York base – is led by finance partner Michele Penzer.

During Sadanandan’s term the firm grew London headcount 40% to 450 lawyers and consistently outpaced the firm’s global revenue growth, generating about $450m in 2019.

The office has recently passed the 100-partner mark, with recent hires including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s M&A rising star Sam Newhouse and Taylor Wessing’s TMT head Mike Turner.

Also hired during Sadanandan’s term, Kensell joined the firm in September 2016, a few months after missing out on A&O’s senior partner post to Wim Dejonghe.

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Coronavirus fallout continues as Latham suspends NY partner conference while Bakers re-opens London branch

Coronavirus fallout continues as Latham suspends NY partner conference while Bakers re-opens London branch

Fears around the spreading coronavirus have yet again affected the business of law, as the world’s second-highest grossing firm Latham & Watkins called off its annual global partnership meeting in New York citing safety concerns.

Meanwhile Baker McKenzie has re-opened its London office today (2 March) after an employee taken ill with suspected symptoms last week tested negative to the COVID-19.

Latham chair Rich Trobman said in a statement on Friday (28 February) that the firm had taken the ‘difficult decision’ to cancel its annual partner meeting ‘with the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and clients foremost in mind’. He added: ‘While we perceive the risks to be small, safety is our first priority, and we thought this decision was in the best interests of all concerned given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.’

The conference was due to take place this week, bringing together partners from its 30 offices across the world in Manhattan. Latham has 514 equity partners and 276 income partners.

Elsewhere, Bakers’ London operations were back to business as usual today after the firm shut its 1,000-employee office on Friday citing concerns over a staff member showing suspected symptoms after travelling to northern Italy, Europe’s worst-affected area. The employee underwent tests for the virus and on Sunday the firm received news they were negative, so notified staff that they could return to work as normal today.

A spokesperson for the firm said: ‘Our priority is the health and wellbeing of our people and our clients, and we took these pre-emptive measures out of an abundance of caution.’

Fears around the impact of coronavirus on businesses have been mounting in recent weeks, with many concerned it could have financial crisis-level effect on the global economy. Last Friday news came that US stock markets had suffered their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, with the three main indexes falling by 10% or more.

Shearman & Sterling has imposed a travel ban for China and Hong Kong, limiting non-essential travel to contaminated jurisdictions and putting in place remote working measures. Dentons has temporarily closed its office in Wuhan, where the virus originated.

Outside law, oil major Chevron last week sent its 300 staff home from Canary Wharf as a precaution, along with Crossrail, which shares the same building.

Marco.cillario@legalbusineess.co.uk

Legal Business

Latham rampant for second year running as surging City growth helps revenue hit $3.7bn

Latham rampant for second year running as surging City growth helps revenue hit $3.7bn

Latham & Watkins has reported its second consecutive year of double-digit growth as its revenue surged to $3.768bn in 2019 while profits per equity partner (PEP) hit $3.78m.

The results announced today (26 February) mean the Los Angeles-bred giant has improved its performance for the fourth year in a row, with the 9.5% surge in PEP outpacing the 6% increase achieved in 2018.

An unsurprisingly bullish chair Richard Trobman (pictured) predicted that such growth will become the new normal at Latham: ‘We expect to see growth rates in line with what we have seen in the last couple of years,’ he told Legal Business. ‘Our business model is strong, we have a clear strategy and a great culture.’

Latham added $381m to its top line in 2019, an increase of 11% on 2018, while net income rose 16%. Revenue per lawyer was up by a very credible 4% to $1.385m as Latham grew its legal staff 7% to 2,720 and partner headcount 8% to 790.

The firm does not officially disclose revenue for its London arm but Trobman said it grew at a much faster pace than the firm globally, hiking revenue ‘well in excess of 15%’. The firm’s 98-partner City office is now believed to generate in the region of $450m, bolstering its reputation as one of the most potent foreign practices in the high-end UK legal market.

Trobman said that Latham’s Asia Pacific business grew at its fastest rate ever and the US was ‘incredibly strong’. ‘Not only are we seeing significant growth, but profitable growth. What we are proud of is that what’s driving that growth is our ability to continue to utilise our global platform, work together as a team, collaborate and support one another.’

He pointed to the fact that the firm’s top 50 clients engaged Latham’s lawyers from on average 23 offices around the world, up from 19 offices in 2018.

The firm’s list of European deals in 2019 included work on the liquidation of travel group Thomas Cook, advising EQT on the financing for the acquisition Nestlé’s $10bn skincare business, and Interswitch on its partnership with Visa. Global deals included advice to Mellanox Technologies in its $6.9bn sale to NVIDIA Corporation.

The firm also made some significant laterals in the City in Linklaters’ insurance partner Victoria Sander and Clifford Chance’s infrastructure and real estate veteran Stephen Curtis in 2019. Even more significant were the moves at the start of 2020 as Latham renewed its push into London’s public M&A space with the hire of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s rising star Sam Newhouse and expanded its City emerging company capabilities through Taylor Wessing’s Mike Turner and Bird & Bird’s Shing Lo.

The 2019 results mean Latham has added $1.16bn to its top line in five years, growing revenue 44% and PEP 30% on $2.61bn and $2.9m in 2014, when it became the highest-grossing law firm in the world and the first to ever pass the $2.5bn revenue mark. The firm has doubled both revenue and PEP between 2009 and 2019.

‘We are in this for the long haul,’ concluded Trobman. ‘We are going to continue to invest in the same way that the partners who came before us did.’

The results temporarily make Latham the highest-grossing law firm in the world. Yet US rival Kirkland & Ellis, which is expected to announce its own 2019 financials shortly, only needs to marginally improve its 2018 figures to remain ahead; the Chicago giant last year reported turnover of $3.76bn. Unsurprisingly, indications from Kirkland are that the outfit will this year become the first law firm in the world to break the $4bn barrier.

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Freshfields loses key rising star Newhouse as Latham renews City M&A push

Freshfields loses key rising star Newhouse as Latham renews City M&A push

In the latest blow to the UK Magic Circle, Latham & Watkins has hired one of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s brightest young partners, Sam Newhouse.

The US giant confirmed today (25 February) its most significant move in the UK public company M&A space since the hire of Allen & Overy’s well-liked M&A partner Ed Barnett in 2017.

One of the Magic Circle firm’s M&A partners hitting their early-40s prime, Newhouse was both popular and much tipped for his work with energy clients including Total and Essar.

In October last year, Newhouse led a Freshfields team advising Neptune Energy on its acquisition of Edison E&P’s UK and Norwegian producing, development and exploration assets from Energean Oil & Gas. The team also advised Neptune Energy on its acquisition of ENGIE E&P in February 2018.

A Freshfields lifer, he joined the City firm in 2003 as a trainee, qualified in 2005 and made partner in 2013.

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk