The international law firm K&L Gates took the very unusual—if not unprecedented—step of posting its complete 2012 financial information to its website this week. The firm, which operates across Asia, Europe, and the US, has more than 200 lawyers and lobbyists in its Washington office, located at the corner of 16th and K Streets, Northwest.
You can peruse K&L Gates’s full financial report here but here are some highlights:
Peter Kalis, the chairman of K&L Gates, told the Wall Street Journal that by disclosing his firm’s financials, he hoped to boost transparency within the legal profession. Law firms are under no obligation to report their financials, since they are not publicly held companies. However, The American Lawyer magazine completes surveys of the 200 highest-earning firms each year, in which firms voluntarily disclose pieces of their financial performance, such as gross revenue and profits per partner.
But the information posted by K&L Gates is far more detailed and comprehensive than what’s included in The American Lawyer’s surveys. While the surveys are certainly the most complete financial rankings of law firms available to the public, compiling the information involves some guesswork. (Full disclosure: I used to work for the American Lawyer chain of publications, and helped gather information for two rounds of their surveys. Some firms, such as Washington-based Wiley Rein and Williams & Connolly, simply refused to hand over financial details. In cases like these, we reporters relied on conversations with sources within the firms and typical annual growth calculations to estimate the amounts ultimately included in the surveys.) And even if they willingly supply their financial data, it’s possible for firms to manipulate the numbers they report to The American Lawyer—something the now defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf succeeded in doing in 2010 and 2011.
Has K&L Gates started a trend of total transparency in the legal industry? Not likely. “I think partnerships generally value keeping private information private,” wrote Carter Phillips, chairman of Sidley Austin, another international law firm, in an e-mail to Washingtonian. “There is no compelling reason to release this information and absent such a reason it is hard to see why others would follow suit.”