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Largest U.S. law firms grow the most in four years, survey says

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The 250 biggest U.S. law firms grew in number of attorneys by 4.4 percent in the past year, the largest rise since 2001, according to a survey published today by the National Law Journal, a legal newspaper.

The so-called NLJ 250 firms had 116,671 lawyers as of Sept. 30. The number of lawyers in the firms grew by 1.5 percent in 2004 and 1.6 percent in 2003. It grew by 8.2 percent in 2001.

"What's happening is deals are coming back," said Bruce MacEwen, a New York-based consultant who advises law firms on strategy and economics. "If your clients are busy, then you've got to have the capacity to match that."

The number of partners grew this year by 4.6 percent to 58,805. Partners increased by 4.2 percent the previous year. The number of salaried lawyers called associates also grew 4.6 percent, to 56,563. Associates decreased the previous two years.

There was little change among the top 10 U.S. firms except for the appearance of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary -- which has a San Diego office -- at No. 2. The firm was formed in late 2004 by the merger of Baltimore-based Piper Rudnick; Palo Alto, Calif.-based Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich; and U.K.-based DLA.

Piper Rudnick ranked No. 16 last year. Gray Cary was No. 108.

DLA Piper has 3,159 lawyers. The largest U.S. firm is Chicago's Baker & McKenzie with 3,309 lawyers.

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