Legal Business Blogs

DWF flags Covid-19’s ‘material impact’ on profit and increased debt as Keystone declines dividend

The UK’s largest listed law firm, DWF, expects the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic to have a material impact on its profit and has entered talks with its lenders to extend its £80m credit facility and relax certain covenants.

DWF provided a trading update to the London Stock Exchange today (27 March), setting out the board’s expectation that revenue for the year to 30 April 2020 would be below previous expectations. The final quarter of each financial year is typically the most important to its financial performance, the firm said, which coincided with the coronavirus outbreak.

The firm said organic revenue growth for the year is now expected to be ‘high single-digit’ and total growth between 15% and 20%. The lower revenue and level of investment during the year – including more than £50m spent on acquisitions in Spain and a managed services business  – is therefore expected to have a ‘material impact’ on profit.

Insurance and international work were expected to deliver most of the revenue growth this year, driven by international despite some issues in a number of locations due to Covid-19. Insurance is now trading ahead of management’s expectations, while litigation is also said to be less affected by the economy.

Net debt is now also expected to be higher than anticipated this year, given the lower profits and with slower collections in the current business environment. DWF has a revolving credit facility with HSBC, NatWest and Lloyds of £80m and currently expects to operate within its limits, but has entered ongoing discussions with its lenders.

‘The board believes it prudent to seek additional contingency facilities from its lenders to ensure that the group has increased headroom for working capital purposes and a relaxation of certain covenants for a period of time,’ the update said. ‘While the current environment is unprecedented, the board is confident that the group is well placed to continue to provide best service to its clients and benefit from future opportunities when the business environment normalises.’

Meanwhile, fellow listed law firm Keystone has followed Gateley, Knights and Ince in similarly providing a trading update to the market. The firm said it believed its model – in which its lawyers work remotely anyway and their fees amount to about 75% of the revenue they generate – meant it was in a strong position to deal with the impacts of Covid-19.

The firm, which operates on a financial year to 31 January 2020, said it was currently unable to assess any impact for the next financial year but would not be recommending a final dividend for this year given the uncertainty.