Law firm concludes a high-growth year

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Williams Mullen CEO Woody Fowler attributes the firm’s
recent success to higher revenues and reduced expenses.

The Richmond-based law firm Williams Mullen says its recently concluded fiscal year was the best in its 108-year history.

Virginia’s third-largest firm based on the number of lawyers employed in the state, Williams Mullen had gross revenue of $125.5 million in fiscal year 2016, up from $116 million in FY 2015.

The firm’s profits per partner, a metric of law firm performance, grew 23.8 percent in 2016 after rising 29 percent in 2015. Those percentages are much higher than the national average of 4 percent for the nation’s 100 largest law firms in 2015.

Williams Mullen’s higher-than-normal averages are largely the result of higher revenues and reduced expenses, says CEO Woody Fowler. “You see increases in revenue of 3 to 4 percent and expenses of 3 to 4 percent nationwide. Our numbers have been higher because our expenses were only going up at under 2 percent, while revenue was going up 8 to 10 percent.”

The firm had 235 attorneys last year, 75 of whom were shareholders. Profit-per-partner numbers (net profit divided by the number of shareholders) amounted to $525,000 in FY 2015 and $650,000 in FY 2016. By comparison, profits per partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a New York law firm, were $6.6 million in 2015, according to The American Lawyer’s annual Am Law 100 ranking.

“New York is a different market. Plenty of firms there are billing more than $1,000 an hour,” Fowler says. “We are in more middle-market cities.”

Profit per partner, Fowler adds, “can be misleading, depending on where you started and where you finish. What our numbers tell you is … we are running our business better, and we have been fortunate to have clients who have trusted our legal work.”

Williams Mullen has eight offices, including five  in Virginia, but it attracts clients from around the country, Fowler says. “Businesses are realizing you can get the same quality work here at half the cost of bigger firms.”

The firm’s expanded focus on its health-care and environmental practices has been a factor in its growth. “That has improved our depth and level of expertise in those areas,” says Fowler.
During the past 12 months, the firm has added more than 20 lawyers. In March it announced the addition of Scott Richter, Ben McCall and Alyson Harter, who previously worked at LeClairRyan.

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