Of the nine Missouri firms with $100 million or more in revenue, six saw revenue increases in 2020 ranging from modest to excellent, and the firms whose revenues declined were down by only a percentage point.
Nearly all firms saw more profit and higher revenue per lawyer. Profit per equity partner increased across the board.
The six largest firms — Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Polsinelli; Husch Blackwell; Shook, Hardy & Bacon; Stinson; and Thompson Coburn — maintained their places in Missouri Lawyers Media’s MOney rankings by firmwide revenue.
With the completion of its recent merger, Lathrop GPM jumped two spots to seventh place. Spencer Fane continued to grow at a fast clip and maintained its spot at eighth place. That left Armstrong Teasdale in ninth place, despite impressive gains.
1. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
BCLP ended 2020 with about $860 million in revenue, down 1 percent from the prior year. Profit slipped a bit as well, down 0.5 percent to $322.9 million compared to 2019.
But the numbers were a little sunnier on a per-lawyer basis, with revenue per lawyer up 1 percent to $627,700, and profit per equity partner up 0.6 percent to $837,500.
Steve Baumer, who is based in St. Louis and co-chairs the firm with London-based Lisa Mayhew, said the essentially flat figures were not bad compared to how things were looking in March 2020.
“It was hard to imagine the year was going to end on such solid footing,” he said. He credited that success to “the balance of our platform overall, the loyalty and great relationships we have with our clients and, really, the resiliency of all of our colleagues across the globe.”
Despite BCLP’s global footprint spanning multiple jurisdictions in various stages of lockdown, the firm was able to pivot quickly to continue serving clients.
“We think one of the things that distinguishes us in the eyes of clients and the marketplace is our very inclusive and dynamic culture,” Baumer said. “We care for one another quite a bit and we care for our clients, and we just put our nose to the grindstone to make all of that work.”
Missouri’s second largest law firm ends its fiscal year on Oct. 31, so the worst of the 2020 pandemic turned out to be period of “unprecedented concern” sandwiched between two periods of strong growth, said Chase Simmons, chair of Polsinelli.
“For us, it looked like a really normal, strong year. If you didn’t peer in and look at things month by month, you’d have thought it was just another good year,” he said.
Practices areas from health care to labor-employment to real estate, finance and M&A remained strong. Simmons said the firm took a conservative approach during the pandemic that ultimately paid off.
“We’ve proven ourselves to be resilient, and that gives us confidence for the future,” he said.
Revenue grew 6.5 percent to $618.3 million, and revenue per lawyer was up 3.5 percent to $707,900. Profit grew at an even better clip: both the firm total of $320.9 million and the profit per equity partner of $1.1 million rose more than 16 percent compared to 2019.
Polsinelli has 22 offices throughout the United States and has often relied on its large Midwestern presence to bring value to clients. In the age of Zoom, that’s even easier.
“I think there is a recognition that there are great lawyers everywhere, and people are very comfortable working across the country now,” Simmons said.
Firm chair Catherine Hanaway said the critical component of the firm’s success in 2020 was laid down long before the pandemic.
“We built the kinds of relationships with our clients that, when the crisis hit, they turned to us,” she said.
Revenue was up 9.7 percent to $417 million, representing a record single-year revenue total for Husch. On a per-lawyer basis that equated to a 1.8 percent rise to $622,500. Profit rose 19.1 percent to $178.2 million, and profit per equity partner climbed 16.2 percent to $755,900.
Hanaway formally succeeded Greg Smith as Husch’s chair in April, and almost simultaneous with that transition the firm announced new offices in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, staffed by a 21-lawyer litigation team from Dentons.
Last year, the firm also launched The Link, an all-virtual office whose unveiling during the pandemic couldn’t have been better times. It now has more than 50 lawyers across the U.S.
Hanaway said she’s committed to continue growing the firm, both geographically and in headcount, to meet clients’ most pressing needs. She also plans to continue the careful planning that got the firm through the pandemic.
“It will enhance our ability to attract and retain talent, and when you sort through everything talent is what we’re selling,” she said.
4. Shook, Hardy & Bacon
Missouri’s fourth-largest firm saw a modest 3.2 percent uptick in revenue in 2020 to $364.8 million, and a stellar 19.6 percent jump in profit, to $174.2 million.
On a more granular level, revenue per lawyer rose 1.8 percent to $728,200 and profit per equity partner was up 16.2 percent to a whopping $989,900.
With those impressive gains at her back, Madeleine McDonough recently was reelected for a second five-year term as chair starting in 2022. McDonough has chaired the firm since 2017.
“My priorities as chair are to continue to deliver A+ legal services, anticipate our clients’ needs, and provide them with unparalleled excellent advice and counsel,” she said in a statement following the April election. She declined a request for an interview.
Shook is largely dedicated to litigation, which was in short supply in 2020 with courts across the country shut down or restricted. In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman said that over the last year the firm’s attorneys conducted more than 200 arbitrations, held some 1,000 virtual depositions and 500 hearings and case management conferences.
The firm also expanded its Philadelphia office in 2020, and in 2021 it opened a New York office and expanded its existing Seattle office.
Stinson’s revenue fell 1.1 percent to $266.2 million in 2020, but don’t blame the pandemic. In fact, its leaders say, peer closer and it was one of the firm’s best years ever.
Managing Partner Mark Hinderks said 2019’s revenue was $2.5 million larger due to an unusually large amount of contingent fees collected that year. Effectively, Stinson’s expected revenue was flat.
Yet revenue per lawyer rose 2.7 percent to $626,300, overall profit rose 5.8 percent to $137.9 million, and profit per equity partner was up a hefty 14.8 percent to $697,900. Hinderks said the combination of reduced expenses and higher per-attorney productivity made the last four months of the year “as good as any four months we’ve ever had.”
It’s a high note for Hinderks, who will be succeeded in July by Allison Murdock, the firm’s longtime deputy managing partner.
“The truth of it is, it’s been more like an 11-year joint effort,” he said. “But we’ll pretend that I’ve actually been in charge.”
It will largely fall to Murdock to bring employees back to the office in person while integrating the flexibility and technological advantages that working from home brought.
“Lawyers are notorious for being slow to change, and one thing we learned is that we are capable of change, and change on a dime,” she said.
6. Thompson Coburn
Thompson Coburn finished the year at $207.5 million in revenue. That’s down 1 percent from the prior year, but firm chair Roman Wuller isn’t concerned.
With fewer attorneys, the firm had expected less revenue, and the 2020 figure beat its forecast. And with little client entertainment or travel to spend it on, the firm’s profit ticked up 5.3 percent to $114.7 million, and profit per equity partner rose more than 10 percent to $646,400.
“A combination of still managing to stay busy and generating the revenue that we had budgeted for with the decreased expenses led to a very nice year for us,” said Wuller, who succeeded longtime firm chair Tom Minogue last year.
The firm last year added a new office in Dallas, its sixth nationwide. Its four initial attorneys joined, as it turned out, just two weeks before the pandemic struck.
Wuller said it took a lot of management time to make sure that the new partners in that office were integrated into the firm. He declared the virtual approach to be a success.
“It was a challenging year because there was no roadmap for it,” Wuller said. “But it was rewarding because we were able to seamlessly go remote in all our offices and not miss a beat and maintain our culture.”
7. Lathrop GPM
It was a big year for Lathrop.
Revenue up 61 percent. Profit up 97 percent. Profit per equity partner up more than 27 percent.
Of course, those large percentages offer a false comparison to the former Lathrop Gage firm, which as of January 2020 became Lathrop GPM when it completed its combination with Minneapolis-based Gray Plant Mooty.
“You do something like this because you want 1 plus 1 to equal 3,” said Managing Partner and Chair Cameron Garrison.
Lathrop GPM’s growth puts it on par with sixth-place firm Thompson Coburn, with almost $205 million in revenue, $90.4 million in profit and $751,000 in profit per equity partner. Revenue per lawyer was 5.2 percent higher, at $645,800.
With a bigger platform that was able to do more for clients, Garrison said the combined firm exceeded its pre-pandemic revenue budget by 2 percent to 3 percent. “That tells me the demand for our services remained high throughout the pandemic.”
Plus, the leveling effect of using remote technology probably accelerated the integration of the firms by a year or two, Garrison said.
“That causes kind of a circling of the wagons. You’re all in this together, and you very quickly focus on what you need to do to come together as a combined firm,” he said.
8. Spencer Fane
Spencer Fane has been Missouri’s fastest growing large law firm for several years now, and pandemic-hobbled 2020 was no exception. It grew at 16.9 percent to $152.9 million. Not counting Lathrop GPM’s merger, it was the highest growth rate of Missouri’s nine largest firms.
Profit was up 14.9 percent to $75.3 million, and profit per equity partner up 9.8 percent to $630,300.
“Can you imagine if you would have told business folks a year ago that this is how resilient they’d stay?” said firm chair Pat Whalen.
Once Spencer Fane became convinced that demand for its services was still there, Whalen said the firm began upgrades to its technology and accounting systems. And the firm kicked off 2021 “about as fast as we’ve ever started” with the addition of 10 attorneys in its Denver office, which Whalen described as like a “mini merger.”
Overall, the firm’s weathering of the storm has been a “confidence booster on the strength of our culture.”
“You would never want to go through a fire drill like this to test it,” he said. “But, boy, having been forced into it, it’s a great proof point that will embolden and energize us to be even more focused, more committed and more energized about recharging our culture and making it even stronger.”
9. Armstrong Teasdale
Armstrong Teasdale had an extremely solid year, with better than 9 percent growth in revenue and profit growth that, on a percentage basis, exceeded all but Lathrop GPM’s merger-driven leap.
But between Lathrop’s merger and Spencer Fane’s double-digit gains, Armstrong wound up in ninth place despite having grown to just shy of $150 million in revenue.
Managing Partner David Braswell, naturally, is less concerned with comparisons to other firms than with having met Armstrong’s internal goals, particularly after
“We’re proud to report that we delivered record results in 2020,” he said. “We did so without having laid off anyone, without reducing partner draws, without reducing salaries.”
The firm had $80.8 million in profit, and profit per equity partner was up 18.6 percent to $729,700.
Revenue per lawyer rose 5 percent to $567,500 despite a huge number of lateral hires. In the past year the firm has opened new offices in Boston; Salt Lake City; Wilmington, Delaware; and London.
Braswell said that, for a time, “everybody was a little more focused with dealing with the pandemic than driving combinations.”
“It slowed the pace of discussions with laterals and other firms, but it didn’t cause us to deviate course in terms of our desire to move forward on those fronts,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this post contained an error in a quote from Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner Co-Chair Steve Baumer. He said “It was hard to imagine the year was going to end on such solid footing,” not “solid funding.” We regret the error.
Overview | Methodology | Large firms | The numbers | Firm profiles | The firms | Digital Edition | Shop | Past editions
Overview | Methodology | Large firms | The numbers | Firm profiles | The firms | Digital Edition | Shop | Past editions