The throne of the Richmond legal scene has been overtaken.
McGuireWoods, which had been a perennial No. 2, last year surpassed Hunton & Williams as the most revenue-rich law firm headquartered in Richmond, according to the Am Law 100. The annual list ranks the nation’s biggest law firms based on their gross revenue.
McGuireWoods reported $599.5 million in gross revenue in 2012 and was ranked 51st in the country, according to the Am Law list.
Hunton, which has been the top Richmond firm on the list since the late 1980s, reported 2012 gross revenue of $557 million. It was ranked No. 57.
Hunton’s gross revenue was down 5.6 percent from 2011, when it reported $590 million and was ranked 49th on the list. McGuireWoods saw a 5.6 percent increase from 2011 and moved up two spots.
The firms played down the importance of having bragging rights from the list.
“Having two firms on that list is the indication of the vitality and overall excellence of the legal community in Richmond,” said William Allcott, a McGuireWoods attorney speaking on behalf of the firm.
John O’Neill, managing partner of Hunton’s Richmond office, said the two firms have had a longstanding competition, even beyond the 26 years of Am Law rankings.
“I don’t know that there’s competition between us in terms of where we sit on the list, but we certainly compete with one another for business, and I expect we’ll continue to do that,” he said.
The firms are neck and neck in terms of the number of lawyers they have in Richmond, each with about 220.
But firm wide, McGuireWoods has pulled away from Hunton over the past few years. It has 941 lawyers among its 19 offices.
Hunton’s headcount stands at 739 across its 18 offices, according to the Am Law list.
“We’ve gotten a little bit smaller over the course of time,” O’Neill said. “We think that’s been beneficial to us and the clients we serve.
“Our profitability has improved. While we’ve gotten smaller in size, our revenue per lawyer and profits per partner have stayed very close to where they have been.”
Indeed, Hunton topped its rival in 2012 with $735,000 in revenue per lawyer, according to Am Law. McGuireWoods reported $635,000 in that category.
And Hunton’s net operating income was $186.5 million in 2012, compared with $176 million at McGuireWoods.
Although their firm fell on the list, partners at Hunton on average bring home a bigger paycheck, Am Law found. Average compensation for partners at Hunton last year was $700,000, according to the list. It was $640,000 at McGuireWoods.
O’Neill said business is picking up, particularly the firm’s business transaction practices. REITs and large infrastructure deals have fueled its revenue of late, he said.
“We look at our business as a trailing indicator of what’s going on the economy,” he said. “What we’re beginning to see is [that] as there is some improvement in the economy, there is some corresponding improvement for law firms.”
Both firms have plenty of room left to move up in the ranks. The top firm on the list, DLA Piper, reported $2.44 billion in revenue in 2012.
“There is a desire on both our parts to continue to expand our market shares respectively,” O’Neill said. “We may do that at the expense of one another.”