For the second year in a row, Missouri’s biggest firms didn’t just endure the pandemic. They thrived.
Of the nine Missouri firms with $100 million or more in revenue in 2021, eight saw increases in both revenue and profit compared to 2020. Most brought in more revenue on a per-lawyer basis, and once again profit per equity partner increased across the board.
All nine firms — Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Polsinelli; Husch Blackwell; Shook, Hardy & Bacon; Stinson; Thompson Coburn; Lathrop GPM; Spencer Fane; and Armstrong Teasdale — maintained their places in Missouri Lawyers Media’s MOney rankings by firmwide revenue.
They are likely to gain a 10th colleague in next year’s Money rankings. After years of steady growth, Lewis Rice’s 2021 revenue was less than $25,000 shy of the $100 million mark.
1. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
BCLP was essentially flat in 2020. But in 2021, revenue grew 2.1 percent to $878.4 million, and profit increased by about 10 percent to $355.7 million.
But the global law firm really shone on a per-lawyer basis. Revenue per lawyer was up 11.7 percent over the prior year to $701,400, and profit per equity partner grew almost 29 percent to $1.08 million.
“We entered 2021 with an absolutely clear focus on our strategic plan, and in doing so we did drive stronger results across the firm as we served our clients across the globe,” said Steve Baumer, the firm’s St. Louis based co-chair. He said the firm focused on profitable growth and operational excellence in such practices as real estate as an asset class, mid-market transactions and litigation and investigations.
The good numbers also were driven by a reduced footprint. On a full-time equivalent basis, the firm had 118 fewer lawyers and 39 fewer equity partners than in 2020. Baumer attributed that to natural attrition.
“We were highly focused on driving to make sure we had the right people in the right places with the right business professionals driving the results across the firm,” he said.
As Missouri’s most globally connected firm, BCLP is now keeping a careful eye on issues such as inflation and the war in Ukraine. Earlier this year, world outrage over Russia’s invasion prompted BCLP to close its office in Moscow.
“There’s always going to be new challenges out there, whether they be inflation or the conflict taking place,” Baumer said. “It’s in instances like that where culture matters, having a mindset that we’re going to be resilient, we’re going to push through this, we’re going to invest in our people and in our clients.”
Revenue for Missouri’s second largest firm rose 12.8 percent to $697.3 million, and revenue per lawyer increased 13.6 percent to $804,000. The firm’s profits for 2021 were even more outstanding, with overall profit increasing 11.2 percent to $357 million and profit per equity partner at $1.4 million, the highest such figure for a Missouri firm.
Chase Simmons, chief executive officer and chairman of Polsinelli, said the firm has been on a “nice trajectory” in the last few years. As of 2019, the firm fulfilled a long-term plan to have an office in every financial center in the United States, and those investments continue to pay off.
“We built something we were pretty committed to and that we think is really special, and then got it fully built and ready to go just as lawyers got extremely busy, especially in the transactional space,” Simmons said.
Things continue to look up. Polsinelli’s fiscal year begins Nov. 1, so at this point the firm is more than halfway through its current year. “If the year ended right now,” Simmons said, “we’d have a spectacular year.”
He added, however, that the firm has worked to improve its balance sheet by reserving cash “given the uncertain nature of the world.” Inflation is among the firm’s biggest concerns.
“There’s really no one in our firm, and probably in most firms, that has dealt with an inflationary environment like this,” he said.
3. Husch Blackwell
Husch Blackwell cited growth in overall headcount as well as new offices in Boston, Los Angeles and Oakland as the key to its success in 2021.
“Growth is part of our long-term strategy,” said firm chair Catherine Hanaway.
Both profit and revenue grew at better than 14 percent, to $476.7 million and $204.1 million, respectively.
The firm also grew on a per-lawyer basis, with revenue per lawyer up 5.5 percent to $656,600 and profit per equity partner up 9.3 percent to $845,900. While many firms have reduced or flattened their equity tiers, Husch’s increased its number of equity partners by 5.5 percent and its total headcount by 8.4 percent.
“We’re betting on the future, not the past,” Hanaway said.
(Husch’s 2020 profit per equity partner was incorrect in the MOney 2021. Based on a corrected figure of 165 FTE equity partners, PPEP was $774,300.)
Hanaway said there were no big combinations to announce for 2022, but she predicted “full steam ahead” on growth this year.
The firm also is moving many operational functions such as communications, finance and client development into the hands of non-lawyers. Hanaway said that led to a 9 percent increase in billable hours.
“That’s in large measure because we’re freeing up our lawyers to focus on practicing law and not running a law firm,” she said.
4. Shook, Hardy & Bacon
Missouri’s fourth largest firm had overall revenue of $414.9 million in 2021 and revenue per lawyer $828,300 — a 13.7 percent increase in both cases.
Profit climbed at an even steeper rate, increasing 24.5 percent to $216.9 million. It was the best bump in profit on a percentage basis of any of Missouri’s biggest firms. Profit per equity partner rose a similar 26.4 percent to $1,250,800.
It’s particularly striking for a litigation-heavy firm like Shook, which had to contend with closed courthouses and canceled trial settings for two years.
“We really took that time to regroup and thing of creative and resilient ways to be helpful to our clients,” chair Madeleine McDonough said.
McDonough said the firm conducted hundreds of arbitrations and other alternative dispute resolution methods during that time and held several complex trials in completely virtual settings. Once in-person litigation began again in earnest, “we were raring to go.”
“I remember in one particular time period, we got five verdicts in our favor in a 10-week period, and many of those were large, complex, multi-week trials,” she said.
Shook added an office in New York in 2021, as well as a location in St. Louis. That expansion continues into 2022, as the firm recently added an office in Hartford, Connecticut.
Like many firms, Stinson attributed its good fortune in 2020 partly to a lack of travel and other expenses during the pandemic. But things continued to improve as the world opened up in 2021.
“This year, our great year was driven by great clients and great work as opposed to saving expenses,” said Allison Murdock, the firm’s managing partner.
Revenue rose 6.9 percent to $284.5 million, and profit was up 5.7 percent to $154.2 million. Revenue per lawyer stood at $688,000, up almost 10 percent from the prior year, while profit per equity partner rose 14.2 percent to $915,000.
The later number was due in part to a slight reduction in the number of equity partners on an FTE basis, which Murdock attributed to planned retirements.
“It was really driven by the revenue,” she said.
Murdock, who was the firm’s long serving deputy managing partner and officially took on the top spot last July, said real estate, corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions were particularly strong, as well as litigation.
“I think it was just a slow progression of the courts and the parties and the clients becoming comfortable with doing a lot of things in litigation in a remote way,” she said.
She expects that trend to continue.
“I think what we’ll see is even more from the litigation side of the practices in 2022 that perhaps we didn’t see in 2021,” she said. “Not that they had a bad year, but I think that some of the busyness the M&A lawyers experienced last year our litigators are going to experience this year.”
6. Thompson Coburn
A major combination gave Thompson Coburn a hefty round of growth in 2021.
Effective July 1, the St. Louis-based firm brought aboard the 44-attorney firm Hahn & Hessen in New York. Thompson Coburn Chair Roman Wuller said talks with the firm began before the pandemic but took time to come to fruition.
“The first nine months have been very good,” Wuller said. “Given the circumstances, that it was all done while we were still remote, we’re very pleased with it.”
Thompson Coburn boasted $234.1 million in revenue in 2021, up 12.8 percent from the prior year. Profit rose 13.6 percent to $130.2 million. Revenue per lawyer was up 5 percent to $661,000, and profit per equity partner rose 9.6 percent to $708,600.
The firm also saw headcount growth in its Dallas, Texas office, which started with four lawyers in 2020 and now has 20. Wuller said the firm intends to continue to grow its existing offices this year.
Wuller said the firm’s corporate and litigation departments stayed busy, often by selling more to existing clients. While he expects to see continued growth in those areas, he’s mindful of the potential for inflation and other economic headwinds to make the firm’s bankruptcy and restructuring practices busier.
“If the one goes down the other goes up, so there is that balance there,” he said. “That diversification protects us.”
7. Lathrop GPM
Lathrop GPM was the only one of Missouri’s nine largest firms to see a dip in its finances in 2021.
Revenue fell 2.4 percent to a hair below $200 million, and profit dropped 5.6 percent to $85.4 million.
Those figures, however, are in comparison to 2020, when the former Lathrop Gage completed its combination with Minneapolis-based Gray Plant Mooty. Cameron Garrison, the managing partner of Lathrop GPM, said the firm is on the right trajectory.
“We really felt like we capitalized on the growth that we showed in 2020 in all of our key metrics,” he said. “We built on those and really solidified the success of our consolidation.
Since 2020, the firm has slimmed its overall headcount by the equivalent of 15 lawyers and its equity tier by 12. Revenue per lawyer was up 2.4 percent to $661,600, and profit per equity partner rose 7.1 percent to $804,000.
“It’s largely a function of the continued adjustment of our firm to the merger in 2020,” Garrison said. “We’re seeing growth in the practices we’re prioritizing in the new firm, but we’ve seen some decrease in revenue and headcount in some areas where we’ve put less emphasis.”
He cited M&A as an area that has “been going gangbusters with no end in sight,” as well as labor and employment as clients have sought advice about the novel issues that arose during the pandemic.
“Overall, I think folks are coming to us for more things and looking to us for our advice on more issues than maybe they were even before,” he said.
8. Spencer Fane
Spencer Fane continued its long streak of growth in 2021, boosting revenue 23.4 percent to $188.5 million. Profit grew at a similar clip of 21.4 percent compared to 2020, to $91.4 million.
“We committed to coming out of this pandemic stronger as a firm, which meant we were not going to pause the execution of our strategic plan,” said Pat Whalen, chair and managing partner of Spencer Fane.
Much of the firm’s growth came from lateral hires, but the firm also completed the largest combination in its history and one of the largest in the country last year when it merged with Bone McAllester Norton, a 40-attorney firm in Nashville, Tennessee.
“From a transactional cost, you’d rather start into a market with more scale,” Whalen said. “But we’re never going to do that at the price of culture.”
The firm’s FTE headcount grew by 15 percent to 327, but the number of equity partners stayed at approximately 75. As a result, the firm’s growth was spread relatively thinly among attorneys, with revenue per lawyer up 7.4 percent to $576,000 and profit per equity partner growing 14.5 percent to $721,800.
Whalen said the firm isn’t intentionally becoming more leveraged and that those figures are “byproduct of all the integration and ramp-up in 2021.”
“A lot of talented people made a move very bravely and very courageously during COVID to come to a new firm,” he said.
9. Armstrong Teasdale
Pat Rasche, the managing partner of Armstrong Teasdale, called 2021 “a very solid year.” It’s easy to see why.
The firm’s revenue grew 18.3 percent to $176.6 million, and profit was up 15.8 percent to $93.6 million.
Rasche credited that success to the firm’s five-year plan, which was launched two years ago at a seemingly inopportune time.
“Three months into it, we go into a pandemic, and we decided we were sticking with the strategic plan,” he said. “I really think it was that strategy that helped us achieve two really good years in a row in very tough times.”
On a per-lawyer basis, that growth at first appears anemic. Profit per equity partner edged up just 1.5 percent to $740,700, and revenue per lawyer fell more than 5 percent to $538,400.
However, the firm’s FTE headcount grew nearly 25 percent to 328 while its equity tier remained at about 75. Rasche described it as “an investment.
“It’s really a conscious investment on the part of the firm for the future,” he said. “We’re not the type of firm that we want to kick out all the profits we can in any one year to the detriment of the future. We look down the road.”
Like many firms, Armstrong Teasdale had to put in extra work to integrate those lawyers during the pandemic. It’s something that the strategic plan, written pre-pandemic, hadn’t quite accounted for.
“Not that that’s a core part of the strategic plan,” he said. “But that’s an aspect that is very important for having a successful plan.”
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