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Stress testing the strategy – post-merger Ashurst calls in Bain for ‘market insight’

It’s been a bumpy road into the Global Top 50 but with a high stakes merger with Australia’s Blake Dawson going live last year, Ashurst has called in bluechip consultants Bain & Company to polish its strategy.

Bain was earlier this year selected from a potential six consultancy firms offering advice on business strategy, data analysis and client development. The consultant was brought in to assess how the 1,748-lawyer firm can polish its client service and improve cross-border working and was charged with assessing Ashurst’s business in areas including private equity, oil and gas and infrastructure.

The idea emerged early in 2014, when the firm’s board decided its combined strategy had to be tested. Ashurst had already last May moved to bolster governance after appointing former director general of the Takeover Panel Robert Gillespie and veteran banker David Turner as its first independent board members.

Ashurst chairman Ben Tidswell (pictured) told Legal Business: ‘Following our merger the newly-elected board decided to stress test the firm’s strategy. This included work to better understand the emerging needs of clients in the markets in which we operate and a recognition of the need to run our business as efficiently as possible to deliver better value to clients. Bain has helped with the process and is providing analysis and market insights to the board. Every stage of the exercise has been communicated to the partnership.’

The deployment of Bain comes amid an eventful period for the firm, which last year finalised its union with Blake Dawson only to then vote in litigator Tidswell over against high profile Ashurst senior partner Charlie Geffen.

The Blake Dawson union and Geffen’s forthright leadership style had proved divisive in some quarters. Geffen was also challenged by some partners ahead of the leadership vote after Ashurst had last year sounded out Sidley Austin over a merger, with some objecting to an early push to secure a US union.

The firm has seen a number of prominent departures since the deal went live including former practice head Stephen Lloyd, who left to Allen & Overy last year, while Jonathan Earle left in April for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, while critics argue the firm’s City deal practice remains unsettled.

Despite such claims, financial results for the combined firm issued this month suggest Ashurst is gaining momentum, posting combined revenues of £586m and a profit per equity partner (PEP) of £801,000 for 2013/14. According to a statement from the firm, the revenue increase represents a 6% increase on a like-for-like basis while PEP was up annually by 22%.

The use of consultancy services on this scale represents a significant financial investment: a then struggling Norton Rose used Bain in 1996 with a price tag reported at the time to be around £500,000. The use of bluechip consultants like Bain and McKinsey remains relatively rare in the legal industry, with some arguing such outfits are not geared up to effectively advise major law firms.

Tidswell added: ‘I don’t think this is controversial. We are not the first large law firm to engage consultants, nor are we likely to be the last, as firms become more professional in the way they are run. We are very pleased with the work that Bain has done. I’m excited about the future potential of the firm.’