US law firms have posted profit increases of over 10% and posted blistering increases in fees according to research by UK legal publisher, Legal Week. Meantime, European law firms are under pressure.

The results of Legal Week’s 2003 US financial rankings show that the top 50 firms by revenue averaged growth in fees of 10.3% — pushing annual revenues for ranked firms to $28.84bn while average profits per partner were up 10.2%. The results, which look certain to comprehensively outpace those of their European counterparts, confirm that the growth of US law firms is accelerating from 2002 when the top 50 posted revenue increases of 8%.

For the second year running the US’ band of emerging national giants were leading performers with O’Melveny & Myers, Bingham McCutchen and Jones Day all posting annual increases in turnover of more than 15%.

In comparison, growth at the elite New York firms was restrained by the relative scarcity of big ticket M&A and capital markets work allowing ‘chasing pack’ firms like Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft to rise up the rankings.

US law firm leaders said the results were driven by the post-summer revival in corporate activity combined with robust activity in counter-cyclical practice areas, like securities litigation and bankruptcy.

East Coast lawyers also pointed to the increasingly robust stance of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the impact of corporate governance reforms last year in generating substantial amounts of regulatory work.

Alfred Youngwood, chairman at New York’s Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, said: “Litigation remained strong and very active throughout 2003. However, towards the end of the year we saw a major upturn in our transactional practice.”

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