MoFo London revenues jump almost 30% after 'transformational' year

Morrison & Foerster (MoFo) has posted a 29% revenue hike in London after a successful year which saw the US firm boost global revenues to a new record high.

The firm’s City base took in £24.7m during the last calendar year, up from £19.1m in 2016.

Europe managing partner Paul Friedman described 2017 as “a transformational year” for the London base, with the firm benefitting from what it described as a strong increase in cross-selling successes between Europe, the US and Asia.

Deal highlights included advising Singapore-based warehouse operator Global Logistic Properties on the formation of two new European funds, as well as acting for SoftBank Group on its $4.4bn investment into US workshare space company WeWork.

The firm also advised on numerous Serious Fraud Office investigations, “including those relating to Libor and Forex market manipulation”.

Friedman said: “Our focus on strategic growth is paying off. We have built market-leading teams, based on our focused investments in the past few years. We have increased our connectivity with our global and UK-based clients, and with our colleagues throughout the MoFo network.

“2017 was a transformational year for MoFo London, as we executed on our strategy, as reflected in our robust performance overall and in particular by our corporate and disputes/investigations teams. Our top-tier teams, and their laser focus on client service and execution, helped us land cutting-edge deals and the most sophisticated investigations/compliance work.

“The momentum from 2017 is continuing, and we have a strong pipeline for 2018. We are continuing to invest in strategic growth in London, and we are optimistic about our prospects for 2018, globally, in Europe and in London.”

Firmwide revenues spiked to an all-time high in 2017, an outcome chairman Larren Nashelsky attributed mostly to the firm’s investments in key practices and lateral hires.

The firm pulled in $1.06bn in gross revenue, a 12.4% increase from 2016, surpassing its previous record by more than $50m. Revenue per lawyer jumped 11.9% to $1.11m, and profits per equity partner surged 23.3% to $1.74m. Net income also rose 16.9% to $388.8m.

“We have definitely seen a strong result from the investments we made in both 2016, and the prior year. 2017 was certainly a year where those investments paid dividends,” said Nashelsky, who was a co-chair of the firm’s bankruptcy and restructuring practice before being elected to its top leadership role in 2012.

Nashelsky said MoFo laid the foundation for the firm’s strong financial performance in 2017 by investing in key lateral hires the two years prior. The firm also expanded in practices such as bankruptcy and restructuring, government contracts, intellectual property litigation, M&A and private equity. A number of MoFo’s new recruits started up to pay off in the second half of 2016 and continued to 2017, Nashelsky said, which contributed to the firm’s robust growth in 2017.

MoFo’s head count remained mostly flat at 960 in 2017, although the firm made nine lateral partner hires, a relatively low number compared to the 28 lateral additions the firm made the previous year. Equity partner head count at MoFo fell to 224, a 3.5% decline from 2016, marking last year the fifth consecutive year that MoFo shed more equity partners than it added.

“There was nothing unusual,” said Nashelsky, when asked about the firm’s equity tier. “When you look at our performance in litigation in 2017, it was just incredible. It was the busiest department in the firm, and we brought in significant laterals in that area, especially IP litigation. There was nothing unnatural in the changes to [the partnership] during that time period.”

Nashelsky noted that 2017 was a record-breaking year for MoFo as the firm made headlines for representing its technology and life sciences industry clients in high-stakes cases, such as defending ride-sharing giant Uber Technologies in its self-driving technology trade secrets fight with Alphabet’s auto unit Waymo, which abruptly settled last week; advising SoftBank Group on its multimillion-dollar deal with Uber; and representing Toshiba in the $18bn sale of its chip business to an investor group led by private equity firm Bain Capital.

In 2018, MoFo is set to continue to focus on growing in the Bay Area and Washington DC, while outside the US, the firm hopes to keep building on its presence in Asia and Europe, especially London, where MoFo saw several lawyers decamp for rival Cooley in early 2015.

“We believe that we saw a significant uptick in activity in London,” said Nashelsky, adding that MoFo is keen on strengthening its corporate and finance capabilities in the city.

While none of the 10 lawyers promoted to partner by MoFo in January are based in London, the firm recently sealed the hire of Clifford Chance finance partner Caroline Jury, with corporate partner Dan Coppel also joining from Jones Day.

“That strong year we had has continued in early 2018, and we are really optimistic about what 2018 is going to look like,” Nashelsky said.

The American Lawyer will release its full Am Law 100 report in May.