SNR Denton overcame a slight contraction in gross revenue to post a double-digit gain in average profits per partner in 2012, according to reporting by The American Lawyer.
In its second full fiscal year since its formative merger between Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and U.K.based Denton Wilde Sapte, the firms gross revenue and net income both fell 1.3 percentto $710.5 million and $155 million, respectively. Profits, on the other hand, leapt 12 percent, to $785,000, thanks to an 11.6 percent reduction in equity partner head count, which fell from 224 to 198. Total attorney numbers also shrank, dipping 4 percent to 1,093. As a result, revenue per lawyer was up 3.2 percent, to $650,000. The firms profit margin remained static at 22 percent.
SNR global CEO Elliott Portnoy says the firm made a conscious decision to decrease its equity partner head count by shedding underperforming partners, with a view to boosting profits.
Increasing our profitability is one of our main priorities, but thats harder to do when market conditions are so challenging, Portnoy says. Weve continued to invest and have grown quite substantially in a number of key sectors, practices, and offices, but at the same time weve looked hard at performance and overall profitability. Where there have been partners or associates whose performance does not meet our expectations, weve not been reluctant to transition them out of the firm.
Portnoy says the firms energy, natural resources, and mining teams enjoyed tremendous success in 2012, with their collective revenue up about 8 percent compared to the previous year. (SNR recently advised French energy major Total on its $2.5 billion sale of a 20 percent stake in an offshore Nigerian oil field to Chinas Sinopec.) SNRs IP and technology group fared even better, posting an annual increase in revenue of 12 percent, he adds, while the firm's large real estate practice had another exceptionally strong year.
SNR's transactional practices, which, together with real estate, account for more than 50 percent of global revenue, endured a slow start to the year, however. The firm's litigation practice also saw reduced activity levels in the first half of 2012 after a number of significant cases settled or closed, including several insurance-related class actions and a high-profile dispute between the National Football League's St. Louis Rams, which SNR represented, and the teams landlord. Despite this, Portnoy says the group ended the year on a real uptick," and he expects that momentum to be maintained throughout 2013.
Like Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Norton Rose, and most other firms involved in the recent spate of international mergers, SNR is structured as a vereinessentially a holding structure that allows participating members to retain their existing forms. As such, the U.S. and international armsthe legacy Sonnenschein and Dentons practicesremain distinct legal entities and are not financially integrated. (Click here for a feature in March 2013 issue of The American Lawyer that analyzes the use of vereins by international law firms.)
U.S. CEO Peter Wolfson says the firms American offices were strong across the board in 2012 and are already well ahead of their budget for 2013 after one of their best ever starts to a year. Further analysis of the firms combined financial results suggests that the international arm performed less well, however.
The legacy Denton business saw revenue fall almost 3 percent to $238 million in 2012, according to our reporting, and achieved average profits per partner of just $577,000almost 60 percent below the U.S. arms $917,000. There was also disparity in profit margins: 23 percent for the U.S. practice; 19 percent for the international. (This gap has at least narrowed. The international arms profit margin in 2011 was just 14 percentbarely half that of the U.S. businesss 26 percent.)
Portnoy dismisses any suggestion that the firms international practice is dilutive, and stresses that SNR doesnt track profitability by office or region.