A result, not the only one but a conspicuous one, of the Great Reset has been a flight to quality coterminous and simultaneous with a flight to value. Our capital markets heavyweights represent quality incarnate, so they’ve come out by and large winners. If you doubt me, look at the AmLaw 2012 results reported so far. Let’s use “Value per Lawyer” as our rough and ready proxy, which AmLaw defines as a measure of “how much money, on average, each of a firm’s lawyers contributes to overall partner compensation.” Let’s set aside quibbles about methodology and focus impressionistically on the firms at the top of this particular food chain. Tell me if you see a pattern:

  • Cahill: $730,000
  • Cleary: $415,000
  • Cravath: $630,000
  • Davis Polk: $495,000
  • Milbank: $610,000
  • Paul Weiss: $540,000
  • Simpson Thacher: $590,000
  • Sullivan & Cromwell: $755,000
  • Wachtell: $1.580-million

If you wonder whether these numbers are impressive or mid-pack, because it’s not a familiar metric, here are a few comparables if you’d like (random selection):

  • DLA: $235,000
  • Baker & McKenzie: $195,000
  • SNR Denton: $230,000

Here are a few other AmLaw metrics, this time change in gross revenue in 2012 vs. 2011:

  • Paul Weiss: +12.4%
  • Wachtell: 11.2%
  • Sullivan & Cromwell: 6.4%
  • Cravath: 6.2%
  • Davis Polk: 4.4%
  • Simpson Thacher: 2.0%

In a “growth is dead” market, these are by and large impressive numbers, and Paul Weiss’ and Wachtell’s are shockingly good. If our pie, as an industry, is relatively static (adjusted for inflation and global GDP growth), it looks as though many of these firms are expanding their market share. They must be doing something right.

So are these firms “golden,” having found an incredibly fit-to-purpose sweet spot in the market? Do they have anything to worry about?

As a New Yorker born and raised, I should be the first to cheer them on and wish the answer were no. But I can’t say that.

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