After a lull in growth at the 250 largest law firms in the U.S., the pace is picking up. The annual survey by The National Law Journal shows the overall number of attorneys increased by 4.4 percent this year, compared to a paltry 1.5 percent and 1.6 percent the two prior years.
And although familiar faces had trouble adapting to market changes, consolidation made room for regional powers. One of the most significant changes in the NLJ 250 came with the merger over the course of several months late in 2004 of Piper Rudnick with Gray Cary Ware & Freidenreich and then with DLA to form DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary.
As a result, legal behemoth Baker & McKenzie has competition for the title of the nation’s largest law firm. With 3,159 attorneys — only 150 fewer than Baker & McKenzie — DLA Piper emerged as No. 2 on the list, and may have its rival glancing nervously in the rearview mirror.
Elsewhere among the top 10 firms, there was little movement. The only firm to drop out of the top 10 was Weil, Gotshal & Manges, going from No. 10 to No. 13. The New York firm lost 63 attorneys over the past year.
Besides DLA Piper, the growth leader in the top 10 was Latham & Watkins, which added 300 attorneys to its practice. The firm’s expansion moved it up a spot in the rankings to fifth place, surpassing Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of New York and Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. The latter two moved down two spots each.
Weil Gotshal wasn’t the only top 10 firm to shed attorneys; the others were Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw of Chicago, which lost 90 attorneys, and Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, which lost one.
Greenberg Traurig gained 198 attorneys, but still maintained the eighth spot on the list