This year’s edition highlighting South Carolina’s largest law firms does something that hasn’t been done in a while — it features several law firms new to the rankings.
But that doesn’t mean there has been much of a shakeup at the top. Rather, South Carolina Lawyers Weekly this year expanded its Largest Law Firms issue from 20 firms to 30.
In fact, the top five firms held onto their spots from 2016 and beyond, and the bottom half of the top 10 saw just one firm rise or fall more than a single spot, with Ogletree Deakins going from No. 8 to No. 10, despite adding three attorneys to last year’s tally.
Conversely, Nelson Mullins has four fewer attorneys than it did last year, but comfortably holds on to the top spot, its 201 South Carolina-licensed attorneys easily besting runner-up Nexsen Pruet, which is six lawyers larger than last year, with 132.
Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd (110), the McNair Law Firm (89), and McAngus, Goudelock & Courie (81) round out the top five. Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd added one attorney while McAngus, Goudelock & Courie feature three new faces from a year ago.
McNair is one of seven law firms featured in the latest top 20 that has fewer attorneys than it did last year. McNair reports six fewer attorneys firm-wide, with most of that attributable to the attrition of Pawley’s Island personnel. Communications manager Paula Williamson said that several attorneys have retired and that the fluctuation in numbers “reflects the normal course of business operations.”
“Our clients in the Grand Strand continue to be serviced from our thriving Myrtle Beach office, where we just added an attorney this month and have recently completed an office renovation,” Williamson said.
Numerically, the biggest moves over the past year were made by Gallivan, White and Boyd, which moved up one spot to No. 9 by adding eight attorneys, and Willson Jones Carter & Baxley, which hung tight at No. 11 after also adding eight new lawyers.
Willson Jones managing partner, Harold “Hal” Willson Jr. said that his firm was fortunate to experience growth in all its offices (the firm has three South Carolina offices as well as two in North Carolina and one in Georgia) over the past year. He attributed the ability to supply new lawyers where there is demand to fair compensation plans and an “enjoyable work environment.”
“I also think that transparency in criteria for becoming a shareholder and an objective compensation system make attorneys want to join the firm,” Willson told Lawyers Weekly. “It is our goal to provide a work environment that people will enjoy, while also providing work quality and efficiency that will bring our clients back to us when they need help in the future.”
In addition to adding six attorneys to its South Carolina operations, Parker Poe — the state’s 12th-largest firm with 49 lawyers — opened its fourth Palmetto State location in Greenville.
Firm officials said that the expansion recognizes Greenville as a leading manufacturing hub and “economic development driver,” confirming Parker Poe’s commitment to serving the needs of global business in the Carolinas.
The office’s managing partner, Michael Kozlarek, said that Greenville’s importance as a “national economic engine drove” his firm’s decision to open a second Upstate office.
“Resident in the firm’s Greenville office are experienced economic development, incentives, and tax credit, tax planning and dispute, new markets tax credits, mergers and acquisitions, and public finance attorneys,” Kozlarek wrote in an email.
South Carolina Legal Services was the lone newcomer to the top 20, clocking in at No. 13 after reporting for the first time its 48 attorneys based in nine offices stretching from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
The emergence of SC Legal Services, coupled with a four-lawyer decrease over the past year, moved Smith Moore Leatherwood down two spots from 12 to 14. The scenario is similar for Nos. 15-20, as firms fell one or two spots after either decreasing in size or remaining stagnant.
No. 15 Richardson, Plowden & Robinson (38 attorneys) is followed by Clawson & Staubes (36), Wyche Law Firm (32), K&L Gates (31), and a two-way tie for No. 19 between Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman and Moore & Van Allen (27).
Rounding out this year’s 30 largest law firms, all new arrivals to a new system, are No. 21 Sowell Gray Robinson Stepp & Laffitte (26); Finkel Law Firm and Collins & Lacy (24); Hood Law Firm (23); Carlock, Copeland & Stair (22); Murphy & Grantland (21); Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms (18); Shelly Leeke Law Firm (16); Jackson Lewis (14); and Pierce, Herns, Sloan & Wilson (12).
Since these firms are new to the survey, it is unclear how, if at all, their numbers have shifted over the past year. But for the firms Lawyers Weekly has been able to track between last year’s rankings and the current ones, below is the differential.
Overall, 10 firms surveyed employ more attorneys than they did this time last year. Among them are Gallivan, White & Boyd (+8); Willson, Jones, Carter & Baxley (+8); Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, Nexsen Pruet, and Motley Rice (+6); McAngus Goudelock & Courie, Turner Padget Graham & Laney, and Ogletree Deakins (+3); Clawson & Staubes (+2); and Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd (+1).
Seven others employ fewer. They are McNair Law Firm (-6); Womble Carlyle and Moore & Van Allen (-5); Smith Moore Leatherwood and Nelson Mullins (-4); Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman (-2); and K&L Gates (-1).
Two firms, Wyche and Richardson Plowden, held steady.
Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @SCLWHamacher