In Immergut's view, "the firm is beyond belief different" from when he took over. Part of the difference is personnel. Of the small circle of elite New York firms ALI compared to Milbank, it has been the most aggressive recruiter of lateral talent. Three of the five executive committee members transferred from other firmsincluding Edelman who had stints at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and the Southern District U.S. Attorney's Office before joining Milbank.
Part of the difference is reach: 20 percent of its lawyers are now based overseas and Immergut says that "fifty cents of every dollar" in revenue has an international aspect.
And part is the firm's practice mix, particularly reinvigorating its long-time creditor-side bankruptcy practice (led by lateral Dennis Dunne who joined from Kirkland & Ellis) and litigation (led by James Benedict from Clifford Chance who arrived with a significant mutual funds practice).
According to Immergut, the bankruptcy and litigation groups now account for one-third of the firm's revenues.
"We're much better balanced now," said Immergut, "Once we didn't have much of a litigation practice. Now we have 30 litigation and 13 restructuring partners."
The firm also has weaned from its Chase dependency. Still a major client, the bank accounts for a little more than 3 percent of firm revenues. Last year's biggest client at 5 percent of revenues was Goldman Sachs, according to Immergut.
During Immergut's tenure, the firm also improved its pro bono efforts markedly.
"Mel has been very supportive of the program," said Joseph Genova, a litigation partner who runs the firm's pro bono effort. "He was at the helm when we went from having a shabby program to a first rate one."
According to statistics compiled by The American Lawyer and ALM Legal Intelligence, in 1996, Milbank had the worst pro bono record of its eight-firm peer group. By 2011, it was first in that group and fifth overall. The firm has a 20-hour per year requirement for all lawyers and in 2011 its lawyers averaged 114 hours.
The firm is notable for continuing to take large cases, including death penalty matters, as well as sponsoring externships for associates to work at public interest organizations.