List of Largest Law Firms in Arkansas Gains Three; Growth Seen

This year's list of largest law firms in Arkansas gained three that probably should have been on Arkansas Business' lists for at least the last few years: the Law Offices of Gary Green, Rainwater Holt & Sexton PA and the Brad Hendricks Law Firm.

All three firms are based in Little Rock, and all are largely - though not exclusively - plaintiffs firms, focusing on areas of the law such as personal injury and product liability.

(Click here to see the list of largest law firms in Arkansas. Click here for a spreadsheet version.)

Otherwise, the list remained remarkably stable with the top five firms holding onto their rankings from the year before. In terms of the number of licensed attorneys in Arkansas, No. 1 Friday Eldredge & Clark LLP of Little Rock maintains its wide lead over No. 2 Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard PLLC of Little Rock - 96 lawyers compared with 69.

Representatives of several of the firms said business was either stable or looking up compared with last year. However, as Gordon Wilbourn with fourth-ranked Kutak Rock said, "I just feel like in Arkansas we're insulated a little bit from the national scene, and I don't really see that we've had that much change."

"Last year really wasn't down significantly like maybe you read in the national press about some other law firms," Wilbourn said. "We had a good year last year, and I would expect we're on track this year to do just as well or better.

"Sometimes it's a little different work than in the past," he said. Kutak Rock, a national firm with offices throughout the United States, has a focus in banking law, and on that front, it's doing more on the workout side of the loan equation rather than the new loan side, Wilbourn said.

Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP of Little Rock added four lawyers in the last year. "Business is better," said Edwin L. Lowther, Wright Lindsey's managing partner.

"We are just seeing more litigation, more complex litigation, and it's placing more demand on our services," he said.

Lowther said the effect of the recession on the Wright firm was "sort of counter-intuitive. In the practice of law, firms tend to prosper when there's a downturn in the economy. For example, there are more bankruptcy filings during a recession or a depression than there would be in good times, and when there are bankruptcies, there are attorneys that get involved. Typically, we represent the creditors in bankruptcy actions, but occasionally we'll take on a major corporate debtor as well. Those are not the type of cases you ordinarily see when the economy is doing well."

Lowther added, "I would hope we do come out of the recession. Bad times are not necessarily good for lawyers. Law firms are not immune from bad times. But there are areas of the legal practice that tend to do well in economic hard times. Bankruptcy happens to be one of them, and we have a strong bankruptcy practice over here.

"Just so there's no misunderstanding, we would prefer a strong, healthy economy, no question about it," he said.

Rainwater Holt & Sexton evolved in 2006 out of Duncan & Rainwater, said CFO Rick Gunther. At that time it had five or six lawyers, Gunther said. Now, the firm has 12, with three of those hired just this year.

Gunther said Rainwater Holt & Sexton was seeing explosive growth. The firm started a bankruptcy practice this year. It opened an office in Conway a year ago and one in Hot Springs in April. It also maintains an office in Rogers.

"Our main goals are to continue to increase our Social Security disability cases and our bankruptcy cases and continue to spread through Arkansas," he said. "I'm not sure where we're going to open our next office, but we don't have any plans to slow down growth anytime soon."

J. Bruce Cross with 11th-ranked Cross Gunter Witherspoon & Galchus PC of Little Rock, said his firm's business was "probably pretty steady" compared with last year.

"I think clients are much more attuned, obviously, to costs," he said. "I think there's some recovery in some industries. Some are still struggling pretty bad. The construction industry is still struggling. But there are other industries that are picking up the pace," Cross said, citing manufacturing. Cross Gunter represents clients such as ABF Freight System, Nabholz Construction, Welspun and Dassault Falcon Jet.