Legal Business Blogs

Watson Farley using fewer smiley emojis as revenue growth falls back following strong run

One of the UK’s leading ‘pacey’ mid-tier firms, Watson Farley & Williams (WFW), has seen its revenue growth rate fall to 3% following a record-breaking year.

The energy, transport and real estate specialist recorded an above-trend revenue growth of 20% to reach £159.8m last year. A modest 3% increase this year, by contrast, pushes WFW’s top line to £162.9m.

Despite the slowdown, co-managing partner Chris Lowe (pictured) was pleased with the result, oddly defining his sentiment with emojis: ‘If the result was an emoji, it wouldn’t be the full beaming toothy smile one, it would be slightly less smiley.’

Lowe confirmed that WFW’s PEP figure dropped from last year’s figure of roughly £600,000 but attributed this to the 11 lateral hires the firm made – nearly double last year’s number. He also noted that the revenue figure was ‘currency neutral’, unlike last year when half of the firm’s 20% growth was due to exchange rate fluctuations.

Lowe told Legal Business: ‘It’s in line with what we budgeted for and it’s off the back of a strong, record-breaking year. We recognised that as the firm is growing we needed to make investments through promotions and lateral hires.’

The firm made some key lateral hires over the last year, notably regulatory specialist Thomas Ross from Ropes & Gray in December 2017. The new hire was part of an effort to build out the firm’s finance disputes practice, with an emphasis on white-collar matters.

Conversely, WFW lost four partners to Herbert Smith Freehills in April, including aviation specialist Rex Rosales.

Other major investments over the last year included an association in Singapore, through a formal law alliance (FLA) with local firm Wong Tan & Molly Lim (WTL). The FLA allows WFW integrated marketing, billing, client and legal services. Around 25% of the firm’s business comes from Asia.

WFW, one of three firms alongside Fieldfisher and Osborne Clarke (OC) to be profiled in our ‘Reversal of fortunes’ feature, has recorded results that compare unfavourably with its mid-tier rivals.

Fieldfisher laid down another outstanding marker with a 24% revenue growth rate, while OC saw turnover jump by 14%. For OC, it confirmed a five-year average of double-digit revenue growth.

On the comparison with OC and Fieldfisher, Lowe said: ‘In many ways we do compare ourselves to them, but one of the big differences this year is that their sector focuses in IT meant they benefitted from GDPR work. We weren’t afforded the same luxury in our sectors.’