Venable slips from ranking of nation's top 100 law firms

September 01, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore legal powerhouse of Venable, Baetjer and Howard has fallen from a respected ranking of the nation's top 100 law firms, showing the impact of staff cuts that have lowered the attorney count at Maryland's second-biggest law firm by 13 percent.

Piper & Marbury is the only Maryland firm that stayed in American Lawyer magazine's Top 100. Piper's 1993 revenue of $79 million, or $300,000 for each of its 265 lawyers, was good for 90th place.

Piper's profits per partner fell 7.3 percent, to $255,000.

Venable had placed 98th in last year's survey, based on 1992 revenue of $71.5 million. Its $175,000 profit per partner, however, ranked 100th. Venable partners last year said the magazine's numbers were too low.

"Under any circumstance, if you lose the income of 35 lawyers at $200,000 a lawyer, that's $7 million," said Karen Dillon, editor of the New York trade magazine which published the survey. "Seven million would do it right there."

Ms. Dillon said the cutoff for inclusion in this year's Top 100 was $74 million in 1993 revenues. Venable's 1993 revenue figures were not available.

The American Lawyer report comes after a study by Prentice Hall Law & Business whose 1994 survey of the nation's top 700 firms said Venable had shrunk to 239 lawyers from 274 a year earlier. The New Jersey company's report was released in May.

"We have been caught in a strong business recession for three or four years," said William McCarthy, managing partner of Venable. "We're a business and litigation firm, and the business side took a little hit."

He said about only about half of the staff reduction was made through layoffs, and he added that cuts had hit most heavily at the firm's real estate, franchising and corporate law departments. "We felt the need to streamline our ship and that's what we did," he said.

Mr. McCarthy said Venable is growing in other areas such as environmental litigation and communications law.

Steven Brill, American Lawyer's editor-in-chief, said in the report that the number of lawyers still exceeds the demand for top legal services. Demand has grown with the economy, he wrote, but not enough to overcome the glut.

"I wouldn't have any reason to disagree with Steven Brill's observation," said Larry P. Scriggins, chief financial partner for Piper & Marbury.

Mr. Scriggins said Piper has basically held steady in the face of pressure to hold down billing rates because its practice is diverse enough that Piper doesn't rely on any one specialty.

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