Growth surge ends at Debevoise as revenue and PEP fall

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Debevoise & Plimpton saw its fortunes turn in 2016, following three straight years of steady financial growth.

The US firm, which recently brought back former partner and litigation leader Mary Jo White from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), saw gross revenue dip 2.9% in 2016 to $735m (£590m).

Headcount remained mostly steady, at 613, as the number of equity partners remained unchanged at 134. Profits per partner dropped 8.2% to $2.41m (£1.93m), while revenue per lawyer slipped 2.4% to $1.2m (£963,000).

Presiding partner Michael Blair, who assumed leadership of the New York-based firm in 2011, attributed the declines to a moderate pullback in the US transactional market last year, following a record-setting year in 2015.

“In 2015, we had a really strong revenue [growth] and double-digit profit improvement that was driven by strong performance across most of the firm, [but] the strongest performers were the US deal practices,” Blair said. “They didn’t have a bad year last year, but they were off their peak a little bit.”

With regards to the firm’s London office, Blair commented: “2015 was a year of significant growth for the firm in London. Following that up with a steady 2016 was important to consolidate that growth, which is exactly what we have done. The year obviously saw a number of significant events which shifted the business landscape considerably, and making sure we continued to work with our clients to react and adapt to those events was a key focus for the year. Those efforts have meant we can look to the future with confidence. Indeed, 2017 has started very strongly for us.”

During 2016, the firm’s corporate group picked up a key role advising an independent committee of the board of directors at Monsanto on the Swiss agribusiness giant’s proposed $66bn (£53bn) sale to Bayer, a mega-deal that still awaits regulatory approval.

Debevoise saw strong performances in 2016 from its white-collar defence, banking and healthcare practices, Blair said. The firm’s healthcare group picked up key roles advising Envision Healthcare Holdings on its $15bn (£12bn) buy of surgery center company AmSurg, as well as Allergan plc on its $2.9bn (£2.3bn) all-cash acquisition of regenerative medicine company LifeCell.

“I think we really established ourselves in the healthcare industry representing some of the bluechip leaders in that industry,” Blair said. “Five years ago you wouldn’t have seen that.”

On the lateral hiring front, 2016 saw some familiar names return to the firm. White, who headed Debevoise’s litigation department for a decade before joining the Obama administration as head of the SEC in early 2013, returned to the firm last month as senior chair. Andrew Ceresney, another former litigation partner at Debevoise who served as director of enforcement at the SEC, rejoined the firm earlier this year as litigation co-chair.