For the second time in four months, O’Melveny & Myers bid farewell to a managing partner when Carla Christofferson resigned from her longtime post in the law firm’s downtown L.A. office.
Christofferson, who spent her entire legal career at O’Melveny, joined Century City engineering giant Aecom this month as executive vice president and general counsel, but her departure is no isolated incident.
More than three dozen lawyers have fled O’Melveny’s downtown and Century City offices in the past year alone. The drop in head count comes as revenue at the firm slipped 9.3 percent to $665 million last year, the lowest level in more than a decade.
Still, O’Melveny remains among the largest shops in Los Angeles County, according to the Business Journal’s annual list of law firms. (See page A2.) And Mark Samuels, partner in the downtown office and vice chair of the firm, said there’s nothing to be concerned about.
“We don’t have any particular focus on head counts for head counts’ sake; that’s not what we’re about,” he said. “We have a long-term strategy that calls for significant investment, and we’ve continued to invest in laterals and technology.”
Samuels noted that O’Melveny last year was coming off the two most profitable years in its 130-year history, which explains the drop in revenue. At the end of 2013, for instance, the firm advised Anschutz Entertainment Group as the downtown company defeated wrongful death claims brought by Michael Jackson’s estate.
However, the modest results stand out because most other major law firms reaped the benefits of an improving legal market in Los Angeles. Indeed, only six of the 44 law firms that disclosed financial results to the Business Journal this year reported a year-over-year drop in revenue. And while O’Melveny’s head count shrank, other firms have been hiring up.
“The general hiring landscape within law firms has improved significantly in the last six to eight months,” said Sunmi Kim, L.A. market manager at Menlo Park’s Robert Half Legal. “As the market continues to improve, we know that firms are actively and aggressively recruiting for top talent.”
O’Melveny had been L.A.’s biggest law firm for 20 years. But it fell to No. 2 in 2013 and then to No. 3 last year. It is No. 4 on the Business Journal’s list this year with 222 lawyers, down 14 percent from last year.
Founded in 1885 in Los Angeles, O’Melveny is the city’s oldest law firm. Sticking to its Hollywood roots, the firm has built a strong reputation worldwide for its entertainment and media practice.
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