Monday, 04 March 2019

‘Only the beginning’: Latham adds more than $300m to top line as Sidley nears £100m in the City

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‘Only the beginning’: Latham adds more than $300m to top line as Sidley nears £100m in the City

A year after becoming the first law firm to break the $3bn barrier, Latham & Watkins has posted an even stronger set of financial results, growing revenue at a faster 11% rate to hit $3.386bn in 2018.

Meanwhile, Sidley Austin joined the growing number of US firms to report double-digit growth for their City operations in 2018, hiking London revenue 14% to £97.5m.

Latham announced on 1 March it added $323m to its top line in 2018, momentarily becoming the highest grossing law firm in the world, as profits per equity partner (PEP) rose 6% to $3.45m. Revenue per lawyer rose 6% to $1.33m, as lawyer headcount rose 4% to 2,540. Last year revenue rose 9% to $3.06bn and PEP 6% to $3.24m.

Speaking to Legal Business, chair Richard Trobman hailed the firm’s tenth consecutive year of growth, which has seen $1.1bn added to its top line in the last six years alone.

‘2018 started strong and ended strong; we saw a consistent demand for our services throughout the year,’ said Trobman, pointing to ‘a fantastic year’ on the litigation front and adding that the value of M&A deals the firm acted on in 2018 was up 60% to $618bn. Mandates included advising Carlyle on the €10bn acquisition of AkzoNobel’s specialty chemicals business, the largest European buyout in 2018, and Global Infrastructure Partners on the acquisition of the Italian railway operator Italo – Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori.

PEP grew at a slower pace last year, with the firm growing its equity partnership by 11 to 488 and its total partnership by 49 to 730. London outpaced the firm’s global revenue growth by several percentage points, although the firm did not disclose revenue for its City office. ‘London had a spectacular year,’ said Trobman. ‘It is a key part of our success and is going to be a core part of the Latham platform.’

The firm made 19 lateral hires in Europe in 2018. In London it added litigators Jon Holland and Andrea Monks from Hogan Lovells, restructuring partners Yen Sum and Jennifer Brennan from Sidley Austin, infrastructure partners Brendan Moylan and Conrad Andersen from Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, as well as regulatory partner Carl Fernandez from Linklaters.

However, the year was not entirely positive. Chair Bill Voge resigned in March 2018 amid allegations of misconduct. Trobman was elected to replace him in June, seeing off competition from seven other candidates.

Trobman concluded: ‘We are really optimistic for the future, what we are seeing today is really only the beginning, we see ourselves pushing to even greater heights.’

Meanwhile, Sidley Austin’s City base also grew at a faster pace than the firm globally as it announced one of its best financial performances since the banking crisis, with firmwide revenue up 9% to $2.2bn from $2.04bn.

PEP at the Chicago-bred firm rose 13% to $2.55m, the highest growth in a decade as it shrunk its equity partnership by 2% to 334. Revenue per lawyer rose 5% to $1.14m, with the firm’s headcount growing 4% to 1,943.

Its London revenue rose 14% from £85.7m, a performance which London head Thomas Thesing described as reflecting ‘high levels of demand across all our service offerings. We saw some of our investment in transactional work pay off; strong demand in restructuring and regulatory.’

The City office, which has been building a private equity practice over the last three years since the recruitment of more than a dozen partners from Kirkland in 2016/17, saw some lateral movement in 2018. It launched a London life sciences practice with the hire of Marie Manley from Bristows, but losses from its City base over the last few months included restructuring star Yen Sum and partner Jennifer Brennan to Latham, former London managing partner and finance co-head Matthew Dening to Baker McKenzie, litigation co-head Dorothy Cory-Wright to Dechert and M&A partner Mark Thompson to Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

Eyes will now inevitably turn to Kirkland & Ellis, which will announce its 2018 financials soon, to see whether it has once again topped Latham and retained its position as the highest-grossing law firm in the world . Either way, these financials from Latham and Sidley are the latest in a number of results that point to a booming 2018 for several US firms, both globally and in the City.

Marco.cillario@legalbusiness.co.uk