From the picturesque lowcountry, to Columbia’s high-rises, to the Upstate foothills, half of the firms featured in this year’s edition of The 30 Largest Law Firms either maintained their lawyer headcount or grew over the past 12 months, according to surveys.
While much of the survey is highly reminiscent of the rankings of yesteryear, three new entrants and the return of a Midlands firm give this year’s bottom half of the top 30 a refreshing new look.
Perennial No. 1 Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough held its spot as the state’s largest firm, despite a nominal decrease in size. Nelson Mullins reported three fewer attorneys than in 2017, but its 198 lawyers easily outdistanced runner-up Nexsen Pruet, which reported 120 lawyers — 12 fewer than last year — in its South Carolina offices.
Lawyers Weekly was unable to speak to a firm representative by press time.
The remainder of the top five largest firms — Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, McNair Law Firm, and McAngus Goudelock & Courie — reported higher numbers than last year. Six, one, and four more attorneys, respectively.
The six lawyers added to the Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd roster ties K&L Gates (ranked No. 17) for the most growth over the last 12 months.
Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd’s managing director, Nick Nicholson, attributes the growth to the addition of former Walker Reibold attorneys, and several associates added to the firm’s litigation, corporate, healthcare, and employment teams across the state. Former Chief Justice Costa Pleicones also joined the firm recently, bolstering its appellate, litigation, and alternative dispute resolution practices, Nicholson said.
“We try to be strategic in our growth to ensure that we are meeting our clients’ needs,” he added.
Rounding out the top 10 are Turner Padget (68); Womble Bond Dickinson (68); Gallivan, White & Boyd (62); Motley Rice (62); and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart (59).
The three firms new to the rankings are No. 14 Young, Clement & Rivers (42); No. 16 Dority & Manning (40); and No. 30 McDonnell & Associates (20). These are not new law firms, but South Carolina Lawyers Weekly did not previously have the firms’ data. It was also unable to obtain data last year for Rogers Townsend, which ranked 20th in 2016 with 28 attorneys and nearly cracked the top 10 in 2014.
Shareholder R. Bryan Barnes told Lawyers Weekly two years ago that the fluctuation was simply the usual “ebb and flow” of the firm’s bank-related business.
This year, Rogers Townsend reappears in the survey, tied with Moore & Van Allen for the 24th spot. Each firm boasts 28 attorneys licensed in South Carolina and working in South Carolina offices.
Overall, 12 firms surveyed employ more attorneys than they did this time last year. They are Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd and K&L Gates (+6); McAngus Goudelock & Courie and Sowell Gray Robinson Stepp & Laffitte (+4); Ogletree Deakins and Richardson Plowden (+3); Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman (+2); and Gallivan, White & Boyd; Willson Jones Carter & Baxley; Moore & Van Allen; Finkel Law Firm; and McNair Law Firm (+1).
Eleven others employ fewer. They are Nexsen Pruet (-12); Smith Moore Leatherwood (-10); Nelson Mullins, South Carolina Legal Services, Clawson & Staubes (-3); Turner Padget (-2); and Parker Poe, Wyche, Hood Law Firm, Carlock Copeland & Stair, and Murphy & Grantland (-1).
According to a spokeswoman for Smith Moore Leatherwood, the firm closed its Charleston office earlier this year. According to last year’s survey, six attorneys worked there. The firm’s Greenville office also shows a loss of four lawyers from 2017’s tally.
Three firms — Womble Bond Dickinson, Motley Rice, and Collins & Lacy — held steady.
While Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd and K&L Gates each added six attorneys, the growth is more pronounced for K&L Gates. With 31 attorneys on its roster last year, the new lawyers represent a nearly 20 percent expansion in South Carolina for a firm that has 45 offices across the world.
J. Walker Coleman IV is the managing partner of the firm’s Charleston office. He said that all of the firm’s growth has been client- and work-driven, and that another litigation associate will be joining the firm soon. As the only global firm in a state that ranks highly for foreign investment, a large percentage of foreign companies opening or expanding in South Carolina have looked to K&L gates for legal assistance, as have in-state companies operating globally, Coleman added.
“I expect our growth to continue in this thriving global economy, particularly as foreign companies continue to pour into SC and both domestic and foreign companies continue to consolidate their legal work with firms capable of handling all of their legal needs,” Coleman wrote in an email.
Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @SCLWHamacher