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‘Improving growth has not been an easy task’: HSF posts record financials amid challenging conditions

Herbert Smith Freehills has marked a decade of consecutive annual growth with its latest financial results, posting the highest revenue, profit and PEP in the firm’s history.

Revenue has increased by 8% from £1.103bn to £1.186bn, while net profit and PEP are up by a more modest 2% and 1% respectively. PEP moved from £1,163,000 to £1,173,000 for 2022/23.

Speaking with Legal Business, CEO Justin D’Agostino (pictured), said: ‘We are particularly proud of the results this year, especially because there were some significant challenges in all of our markets, including rising costs and tougher trading conditions.’

D’Agostino explained why the firm has fared so well despite the less-than-ideal market conditions: ‘Our clients come from  strong sectors, such as energy, infrastructure, technology and banking. We are also focused on the twin engines of our contentious and transactional practices. That mix results in a very well-hedged global business.’

On the firm’s strategy, D’Agostino elaborated: ‘We launched our new strategy in November 2021, which has been having a positive impact. When we set out our strategy, we set out our choices on the areas we were going to focus on winning market share and grow: private capital, energy transition and ESG. We are seeing significant growth in these areas, and we will see sustainable growth for the next few years.’

Asked which were the firm’s best-performing  jurisdictions, D’Agostino responded: ‘London had an outstanding year, as well as strong, double-digit growth coming from New York. EMEA saw good growth too, with double digits from Milan, Dubai, Germany and Johannesburg.’

He added: ‘The market was tougher than previous years in Asia and Australia. Despite this we still saw double digit growth in Japan and South-East Asia too.

‘On the practice side, our contentious practice did particularly well. We saw increased client demand in class actions, competition and disputes deals. The largest class actions we are seeing are with our biggest clients, such as Google and Meta.’

Probed further on the firm’s US strategy, D’Agostino commented: ‘We have been growing our New York office and we will continue to grow organically there. We are very focused on the US market and real attention will be placed on it by us over the next period.’

HSF’s chief financial officer, Steve Bowers, contextualised the discrepancy between the acceleration in the rate of revenue increase and the reduction of the rate of PEP and profit growth since this time last year: ‘Compensation costs are high because of the intense demand for talent, which remains an issue. We continue to invest and ensure that our employees are rewarded and that we have the right standing in the market for talent compensation.

‘Macro factors such as high interest rates, as well as our investment into digital technology, our core systems, and further investment in our people is the right thing to do with long-term benefits. That means that sometimes there will be a disconnect between profit and revenue growth. You won’t see many firms of our size and scale this year having their best-ever results on those three key metrics.’

He added: ‘The context is important here. If we look at the performance for FY23, you do see client demand soften in a few places, but we are still doing really well. Improving growth has not been an easy task.’