This year fully half of the California 50 law firms got smaller. Still, with growth at more than 20 of the firms on the list, the total number of lawyers employed at 2012's ranked firms is down less than 1 percent. The two firms at the top of the chart hold the same spots they did last year: Latham & Watkins at number one, ahead of Morrison & Foerster (see the list here
). After adding 14 lawyers, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton moved up a notch to third place, trading positions with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, which lost 33 lawyers and slipped to fourth.
Mergers brought two firms onto the list for the first time: Arnold & Porter (ranked 36th) absorbed Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, and McKenna Long & Aldridge (23rd) took on Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, which had been 36th in 2011. Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch, another newcomer to the list, grew significantly this year, adding lawyers in specific practices. "We grabbed the entire employment group of Luce Forward," says managing partner Thomas W. Turner Jr.
Nearly every firm reported hiring lawyers in California, but the majority hired fewer attorneys then they did last year. "It's about survival of the firm," says Lyndon J. Parker of the Los Angeles office of Mestel & Company, an attorney placement company. "It's the Dewey effect. Firms are being more careful. ... It's the new reality."
Three firms bucked that conservative hiring trend, increasing their headcounts by 12 percent or more, mostly by adding associates: Fenwick & West, Gordon & Rees, and Seyfarth Shaw. Fenwick's growth has been primarily in the technology and life sciences sectors, while Gordon & Rees expanded its employment and health care practices and opened a Carlsbad office with an intellectual property group. Much of Seyfarth's hiring has been in its real estate practice in Los Angeles.
Other firms shed significant portions of their attorney rolls in the Golden State: Bingham McCutchen (down 15.7 percent); Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (15.3 percent); and Morrison & Foerster (11.6 percent). Two firms - Winston & Strawn and Downey Brand - dropped off the California 50 this year (in 2011 they ranked 38th and 42nd, respectively).
The California 50 Breakdown
highlights current trends in part-time attorney positions, equity partners, and hiring at the big firms. Look for further analysis of the data in our ESQ. section in upcoming issues.
- Chuleenan Svetvilas
To view the 2012 California 50 click here