Encino-based law firm Michelman & Robinson, LLP earned the top spot on the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s list for the ninth consecutive year with 54 attorneys in the greater Valley area.

This year’s list is a redesigned and expanded version to offer readers more useful information. We added compensation type and clients as categories and the total number of firms increased by 10 to 45 firms; nearly half of those did not appear on our 2011 list.

Michelman & Robinson, a full-service law firm, also had the largest employee total in the greater Valley region at 110.

Sanford L. Michelman, the firm’s executive committee chair, said the law firm has increased its head count every year throughout the recession. Michelman said the firm grew in part because it “read the tea leaves” and advised clients of a coming downturn. Transactional and regulatory law have been growth areas, he said.

During the first six months of this year, the law firm plans to hire five additional attorneys in Encino, all focused on business litigation.

“Litigation is always there,” during good times and bad, Michelman said.

Sherman Oaks-based Tharpe & Howell, LLP came in second on the list. The litigation and transactional firm had 52 attorneys based in the greater Valley area.

Rounding out the top five on the Business Journal’s list were Glendale-based Christie, Parker & Hale, LLP with 39 attorneys, Glendale-based Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County with 38 attorneys and Encino-based Horvitz & Levy LLP with 32 attorneys. All three were new to this year’s list.

Last month, Christie, Parker & Hale moved to Glendale from Pasadena, where the firm was based since its founding in 1954. The firm joined the Glendale Bar Association in January and plans to hold a get-acquainted event this year.

Byron Hibdon, the intellectual property law firm’s executive director, said business has remained flat over the past few years. More clients are remaining cautious, holding back on filing new patents and trademarks, but are looking to increasingly enforce those they hold, Hibdon said.

“During really good times businesses are willing to file (intellectual property) protection on projects that they are not sure will be commercially successful,” he said.

So far this year, business is slightly on the rise, following a slow and gradual general economic uptick, and hopefully the trend will hold, Hibdon said.

“A few new cases have been coming in,” he said.

Download the 2012 LARGEST LAW Firms lists (pdf)