High-flying disputes boutique Signature Litigation has seen its revenue surge by 70% from £4.82 to £8.17m in 2013/14, despite having only launched two years ago, while profit margins are estimated at 50%. The firm has also taken an innovative approach by operating an all-inclusive, fully transparent, profit-sharing model.
Founded by former Hogan Lovells partners Graham Huntley and Helen Brannigan, the 30-member firm has seen some substantive disputes mandates come its way since its inception, taking on a role in the heavyweight Fortress v Blue Skye litigation, a dispute that arose out of the reorganisation of the €200m Blue Skye Investment Group in Italy. Listed for trial over 12 weeks from May this year, Signature represented the defendant Blue Skye while Slaughter and May and DAC Beachcroft acted for Fortress Value Recovery Fund. ‘There can be no more testing mandate for a niche firm than taking on a massive case of that nature in mid-course against two very well-resourced opponents,’ said Huntley.
It is apparent that Signature wants to foster a different culture from the traditional Big Law model. The firm’s budget includes a proportion of profit that is pooled and generates a profit share divvied up among all members of staff, from partner to paralegal. These are not meagre figures, with year-one profit shares for members equating to 21% of their base salary, in year two rising to 33.4%. Huntley says it is near impossible to execute such a strategy in a major law firm and the collegiate culture a small-sized firm breeds is much more amenable to the idea.
Huntley and co have also brought in operational support in order to focus wholly on clients. From launch, the firm hired members of Kindleworth, a specialist provider of managed services to law firms, to take on administrative tasks, including Kevin Munslow, former chief executive of Olswang, who acts as Signature’s chief executive and is responsible for developing the firm’s agenda; and Tom Arrowsmith, Olswang’s former head of risk and compliance, who serves as risk management director.
The firm has committed to further expansion plans and last month hired Simmons & Simmons litigator Abdulali Jiwaji. Having trained at legacy Lovells before working as an associate for two years in Allen & Overy’s litigation team, he moved to Simmons’ Hong Kong practice in 2011 as a partner. He has now relocated back to the City, and will continue to focus on complex financial market disputes.
When asked about growth plans, Huntley was agnostic about what comes next, but pledged to limit Signature’s growth. ‘We’ll lose too many advantages. If we started getting bigger than 15 partners, it would be a problem. Often, firms try to diversify and lose the ability to be small, nimble and fast. There is a huge advantage in staying small. That is a particularly important feature of the litigation market.’
For more disputes analysis, see Legal Business’s ‘Disputes Yearbook 2014’ here.