Nancy Lasersohn, Dechert’s chief marketing officer, pauses at a Lucite magazine rack in the firm’s Philadelphia offices and notices that something is amiss. “Oh,” she says, grabbing a fistful of glossy brochures touting the firm’s state tax practice, “I guess we should get rid of these.”
Less than a day has passed since CEO and Chairman Barton Winokur sent an e-mail to the firm’s 1,007 lawyers announcing that the state tax practice — with Dechert’s blessing — was moving to Reed Smith. Though the three-partner group had posted $10 million in revenues (and turned a tidy profit) the year before, Dechert had declined to make it a national practice. “For a variety of reasons, the development of a nationwide state tax practice is not a strategic priority for Dechert,” Winokur wrote in his e-mail.
In Dechert-speak, that means that the state tax group wasn’t going to help build one of the practices the firm sees as having the most profit potential: corporate, hedge and mutual funds, real estate finance, antitrust, securities litigation/white-collar enforcement, product liability and most recently, IP and arbitration.
And if it wasn’t serving those practices, it wasn’t going to get much in the way of resources from the firm. Such a hard-nosed focus on a few core areas has pushed Dechert from a Philly-based also-ran to the top tier of profitability among The Am Law 100.
In 2006 Dechert’s revenues grew faster than all but a few firms that scored big contingency fees or had a merger (up 27 percent over 2005). Profits per partner hit $1.99 million, just a tick below the top Wall Street players an hour’s Amtrak ride away in New York. And the firm showed above-average growth rates in revenue per lawyer and value per lawyer.