The American Lawyer's annual review of the highest-grossing, most profitable law firms in the country is out, and the news is that the law business is bigger than ever.

In this year's survey, 20 firms were reported to gross more than $100 million; two years ago, only five firms grossed that much.

Topping the list were 712-lawyer, New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, with estimated gross revenue of $228 million; 556-lawyer national firm Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Heine, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey, with revenue of $158 million; 807-lawyer international firm Baker & McKenzie, at $157 million; 466-lawyer Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, $156 million, and 306-lawyer Davis, Polk & Wardwell of New York, $155 million.

"{The} gaps are widening," American Lawyer editor-in-chief Steven Brill noted. "Compared to everyone else, the big seem to be getting bigger and the rich richer."

The survey, the magazine's third annual attempt to document law firms' bottom lines, is based on figures provided by the firms or on "informed estimates." Most of the firms provided information themselves, Brill said.

As the law firms raked in millions in client billings, their partners profited. The American Lawyer survey reported profits per partner of an astounding $1.44 million at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, an 87-lawyer New York mergers and acquisitions firm. The other firms among the top five in partner profits were also in New York: $970,000 at Cravath, Swaine & Moore; $940,000 at Cahill, Gordon & Reindel; $780,000 at Skadden Arps, and $730,000 at Davis Polk.

District firms once again lagged far behind on both measures, with none showing estimated gross revenue anywhere near the $100 million mark. Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, whose 309 lawyers are divided between the District and Dallas, had reported gross revenue of $71 million, the 35th highest. Covington & Burling came in 49th, at $62 million; Arnold & Porter, $60 million; Hogan & Hartson, $56.5 million, and Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn, $43 million.

Akin, Gump also had Washington's highest profits per partner, $295,000, followed by Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, $270,000; Arnold & Porter, $265,000; Hogan & Hartson, $260,000; Covington & Burling, $250,000; Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, $245,000; Arent Fox, $215,000, and Steptoe & Johnson, $205,000.

The results are in from settlement week in D.C. Superior Court: Almost half of the 701 civil cases scheduled for mediation were settled during the period, when normal civil trials were suspended. The settlements included a case filed in 1975. Contract cases had a higher settlement rate than personal injury cases, which accounted for about three-fourths of the cases mediated. Cases seeking amounts less than $100,000 settled more often than cases with higher damage claims, but the second largest case involved in settlement week, valued at $10 million, also settled.

Chief Judge Fred B. Ugast called the experiment an "unparalleled success." Although "many came in reluctantly" to settlement conferences, he said, they "left satisfied that mediation is indeed a viable dispute resolution technique."

Breaking up can be hard to do -- for law firms, too. Now the Bar Association of San Francisco has launched an innovative program to arbitrate law firm dissolution problems and fee disputes. San Francisco lawyers have "come out of the woodwork seeking help in settling their internal bickering," David M. Zeff, who heads the arbitration committee, told the Recorder, a legal newspaper there.

The arbitrations, to be voluntary and binding, will cost a percentage of the disputed amount in fee squabbles or a flat fee plus a percentage of the disputed assets in a firm breakup. "I think we'll end up with . . . some good-sized filing fees," Zeff predicted.