06:34, July 25 823 0

2017-07-25 06:34:07
Jones Day toppled as world’s biggest litigation firm

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan generated more revenue from litigation and arbitration last year than any other firm in the world, putting the US disputes boutique ahead of any global practice for the first time.

Last year total fee income at the US litigation boutique reached $1.204bn. Over the past five years Quinn Emanuel’s total disputes revenue has risen by 44 per cent from $835.5m.

Quinn Emanuel is now the number one firm in this year’s overall Global Litigation 50 ranking, which has been produced in association with FTI Consulting and was published yesterday.

While Quinn Emanuel has its origins on the West Coast, New York is now the firm’s largest office with 235 lawyers and 78 partners, compared with 220 lawyers and 103 partners on the West Coast.

London is the firm’s largest office overseas, with 60 lawyers and 21 partners. Recent hires include Mark Hastings from Addleshaw Goddard and Macfarlanes head of financial services David Berman, although the London office did see its first partner exit, with former Olswang litigation group head Martin Davies quitting for Latham & Watkins.

The firm’s founder John Quinn said he saw little sign of any softening in the US litigation market. Indeed, in 2016 Quinn Emanuel’s firm-wide revenue rose by 15.5 per cent, leading to an increase in California revenue of almost 9 per cent.

“The US is the most litigious society in the world and I don’t see that changing any time soon,” said Quinn. “The total number of patent suit filings may be down but it’s a decline of around 10 to 15 per cent max. Also that market has segmented into the commoditised, troll entity-type work versus the operating company litigation such as the smartphone or automated car cases. The latter continue to be very important.”

Quinn conceded that there was pressure on billing rates but added, “I see no slowdown in things like the major pharma cases and others between operating companies. Patent litigation represents a very small fraction of the market for business litigation in the US generally, maybe 5 per cent.”

Quinn said that during 2016 patent litigation, which is around 20 per cent of his firm’s practice, had “actually been very strong”.

He also said that as his firm had grown internationally, revenues were increasingly driven by cases that involved multiple jurisdictions, notably investigations, antitrust and international arbitration, “which require practitioners on the ground in Hong Kong, Switzerland, DC and London”.

“The need for cooperation across offices in our firms has been a significant factor for us,” added Quinn. “The domestic US litigation market is so huge, but white collar crime and antitrust are two big growth areas, and they tend to involve multiple jurisdictions.”

This year’s report focuses particularly on the growing trend for the top litigation practices to use technology to turbocharge their litigation matters. With regards to the extent to which the trend for using artificial intelligence or machine learning tools could revolutionise his firm’s practice of law, Quinn remains firmly in the sceptic camp.

“It’s an interesting thing to talk about but it certainly is not a factor yet,” claimed Quinn. “It’s fun to talk about but it isn’t there yet. Robots aren’t going to be addressing courts any time soon, I’m not going to be displaced.”

In Quinn’s opinion the technology still has some way to go before it gains acceptance from the wider market and in particular the judiciary.

“There’s a lot of talk about it but it’s not a reality yet, it just isn’t”, he added. “The tools haven’t matured to a point that they’re really useful in a practice way to a working litigator. They’ve certainly made a lot of progress, and if both sides agree to use the technology that’s fine, but absent any agreement the court’s expectations and standards about what must be done haven’t changed.”

This year’s Global Litigation 50 top five is entirely populated with firms that generated in excess of $1bn from disputes during 2016. The number two firm, up one place in the rankings, is Kirkland & Ellis, which had a barnstorming 2016 across the board with firm-wide revenue rising by 15 per cent to $2.65bn.

Third, down two places from last year’s number one, is Jones Day while fourth-placed Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom shows a slight tailing off in total revenue growth last year. However, over five years Skadden’s global litigation revenue has grown by 19 per cent.

The only firm in the top five to show a reduction in disputes revenue since 2012 is DLA Piper. Back then the firm topped the charts with a total disputes income of $1,090.8bn. Indeed, it was the first and then only $1bn litigation firm.

Five years on and DLA Piper is now in fifth place in the $1bn-plus litigation club, with all five of this year’s leading group posting a litigation revenue in excess of $1bn (as has been the case for the past two years).

In California, Gibson Dunn now tops the table by headcount having shown the most growth there over the past three years, adding 69 lawyers during a period in which its total West Coast revenue rose from $255.8m to $339.4m. Quinn Emanuel has also hung onto its top spot in the California ranking in terms of revenue, although rival Gibson Dunn & Crutcher closed this gap over the past year, from $51.5m to $29.5m.