For top Biglaw firms, 2021 was an incredible year: gross revenue rose nearly 15%, while profits per equity partner grew almost 20%. Those growth rates were obviously unsustainable, so there is no great surprise that the financial metrics reported in the just-released 2023 edition of the Am Law 100 indicate a return to earth. 2022 was a roughly flat—for many firms, somewhat down—year. But considering the lofty heights reached in 2021, that actually isn’t so bad.
Collectively, in 2022, the AmLaw 100 attained:
For context, let’s compare the 2022 growth rates to the remarkably strong growth of 2021 and 2020, as well as the more typical rates of 2019:
Positive revenue growth paired with declining RPL implies that increases in headcount played a material role. Indeed, total AmLaw 100 headcount rose 4.7% (approximately 5,000 additional lawyers), with equity partnerships expanding by 1% (+207 equity partners) and the nonequity partner pool growing by 6.4% (+1,175 nonequity partners). This is consistent with our observations of the 2022 lateral market: even as deal work took a hit, 2022 was a reasonably strong year for lateral hiring.
Let’s now take a closer look at the three most important metrics — gross revenue, revenue per lawyer, and profits per partner — and the top 10 firms in each category.
Here are the top 10 firms in the 2023 Am Law 100 rankings, ranked by their gross revenue in 2022. You can access the full list here.
Kirkland & Ellis once again led the pack, widening its lead over Latham & Watkins, which maintained its second-place position despite a decline in revenue. There was little change to the top group, with Gibson Dunn entering the top 10 and Hogan Lovells dropping down to the 12th slot.
Most of the top 10 firms achieved revenue gains, but this was not representative of the broader Am Law 100. Although overall Am Law 100 revenue increased in 2022, 59 of the 100 firms suffered a revenue decline. This was a marked reversal from 2021, when every Am Law 100 firm increased revenue year-over-year.
Revenue Per Lawyer
Here are the top 10 firms in the 2023 Am Law 100 rankings based on revenue per lawyer. You can access the full list here.
It was not a great year for revenue per lawyer among the Am Law elite, highlighted by the 12% declines for Davis Polk and Simpson Thacher. Wachtell, Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, and Kirkland maintained their positions at the top of the table despite RPL decreases. Proskauer was the only new entrant into the top 10, with Quinn Emanuel falling to the 13th slot due to a 13% RPL decline—a notable hit in a relatively strong year for litigation.
Profits Per Equity Partner
And finally, the ranking we’ve all been waiting for: the top 10 firms by profits per equity partner. You can access the full list here.
The big news is that Kirkland has overtaken perennial champion Wachtell as leader of the PPEP ranking. Wachtell made history in 2021 as the first firm to exceed the $8 million PPEP mark. But a 13% drop in 2022—in the face of Kirkland’s 2% increase—has dislodged Wachtell from the top spot.
Wachtell’s percentage decline is not the highest among the top 10: that title goes to Davis Polk, which suffered a whopping 21% drop in PPEP. In the process, Davis Polk fell from the third slot to the fifth. New entrants into the top 10 were Skadden and Gibson Dunn. They displaced Cravath, which fell to 13th thanks to a 19% PPEP decline, and Cahill, which fell out of the Am Law 100 entirely.
In 2022, 9 Am Law 100 firms achieved profits per equity partner above $5 million (compared to 14 in 2021 and 6 in 2020). It wasn’t the year some firms might have hoped for, but even so, being an Am Law 100 equity partner in 2022 was still substantially more lucrative than prior to the pandemic.
Gain further insights and analysis on the 2023 Am Law 100 rankings by tuning in to our latest episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers. This engaging Lateral Link podcast offers a deeper understanding of the legal industry landscape.