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NC’s largest firms show growth over previous year


2019 saw an ever-so-slight increase in the number of attorneys working at the state’s largest law firms, according to the 2019 North Carolina Largest Law Firms survey, while the top five firms on the list remained the same from a year ago.

Womble Bond Dickinson (289) maintained its position as the largest law firm by a considerable margin while increasing their overall numbers (+3).

“Womble Bond Dickinson’s North Carolina roots remain extremely important to our firm, and we are proud to be the largest law firm in the Tar Heel State once again,” said Betty Temple, chair and CEO of Womble Bond Dickinson’s U.S. offices. “North Carolina will always be a vital part of where we are and what we do—and our North Carolina offices will continue to grow.”

Womble Bond Dickinson was followed by Moore & Van Allen (266) and McGuireWoods (223), which held on for third despite a slight decline in attorney numbers (-6). Legal Aid of North Carolina (198) saw the biggest increase of any firm (+20), helping it stay in fourth, while Parker Poe (145) rounded out the top five.

Sean Driscoll, a press official for Legal Aid, said that the attorneys were hired to handle a range of matters, including domestic violence, disaster relief and eviction diversion cases.

“Our new disaster-relief attorneys are already firmly embedded in the communities struck by Florence and are helping survivors handle the myriad legal issues – housing, benefits, insurance, consumer scams and more – that continue to confront survivors long after the storm hits,” he said. “The remaining new attorneys will either handle a general caseload or will specialize in other practice areas, including eviction diversion and education justice.”

Robinson Bradshaw (134) and Smith Anderson (133) switched places to land in sixth and seventh while K&L Gates (113), Alston & Bird (106) and Kilpatrick Townsend (97) maintained their spots from the previous year.

Nineteen of the top 31 firms (there was a tie for 30th place) saw growth in size over a year ago, adding up to about a 0.6 percent increase in the total number of attorneys working at the state’s top 30 largest firms.

After Legal Aid of North Carolina, Robinson Bradshaw (+5) saw the second largest increase, followed by Moore & Van Allen, Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, Nexsen Pruet, Katten, and Williams Mullin, who all added four.

Allen Robertson of Robinson Bradshaw said that increases in demand led to the firm’s decision to increase hiring.

Not every firm saw growth in the past year. Ten of the top 30 firms surveyed saw a decline in attorney numbers while one firm stayed the same as it was a year ago. (Due to an editorial oversight, Tharrington Smith was not included on last year’s list even though it should have been. Lawyers Weekly regrets the error.)

Fox Rothschild (-17), which was formerly known as Smith Moore Leatherwood before the firms merged in September 2018, saw the biggest decline from 2018 to 2019.

Mark Morris, the firm-wide managing partner at Fox Rothschild, said that some of the declines had to do with the merger, but that it was not a requirement of the deal.

“When the merger happened, there were conflicts of interest that arose and a few lawyers decided not to come based on that,” he said. Others left prior to the merger, he said, while others decided to move on to stay with a smaller firm. “The numbers you’re looking at aren’t bad compared to what it could’ve been.” He said that the firm is now in the process of hiring to further expand its footprint throughout the Carolinas.

Ward & Smith (-7) and McGuireWoods (-6) also saw sizeable declines in attorney numbers. While representatives from McGuireWoods declined to comment on the drop, Brad Evans, co-managing partner for Ward & Smith said retirement and departures led to his firm’s decline in numbers.

“We are facing the same demographic shift as many other firms, as our baby boomer partners are retiring,” he said, explaining that many of the departures were planned. “We’ve also had departures that will be offset by the new attorneys we’ve hired to begin in September. And, we continue to seek lateral attorneys in multiple areas of practice, including corporate, real estate, and litigation.”

The annual survey of North Carolina’s Largest Law Firms is based on the self-reported number of North Carolina-licensed lawyers practicing from an office located within the state.

The information was gathered over the past two months, using email, telephone calls and digital survey questions to put together an up-to-date list of information from all the firms that appeared in the 2018 survey.

In compiling the 2019 survey of North Carolina’s Largest Law Firms, we have made every effort to provide complete and accurate information.

If we have inadvertently left out a firm, or if the information listed is not correct, please contact Matthew Chaney, the reporter who worked on the survey, via email at [email protected].

We will begin collecting data for 2020 edition of the survey next February.

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