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What credit crunch? – Forsters gives reporting season a boost with 16% hike in revenues

Europe may be stuck in the doldrums and the UK property market mired in a five-year slump but no one seems to have told West End boutique Forsters, which posted a revenue rise of 16% in its latest financial year.

Total fee income at the 120-lawyer firm grew to £32.5m for the 2012/13 year, up from £28m, while profits increased 11%. Profits per equity partner (PEP) rose 6% to £431,000 from £392,000 in 2012, while earnings per partner grew 3% to £308,000.

Forsters becomes one of the first top 100 practices to unveil its 2013 results, though few of its peers are expecting to post comparable organic growth given turbulent market conditions. The firm was also one of the fastest-growing players in 2012, posting a 12% increase in revenues.

The Mayfair practice attributed its robust performance to several large one-off transactions and an active institutional client base. The performance comes in contrast to the woes seen by many property teams in the City, which have generally been hard hit since the credit crunch gripped the UK property market in 2007.

Forsters managing partner Paul Roberts said: ‘The property market is still not perfect but our institutional clients have been active. There have been a lot of one-off foreign investors coming into the UK market and this has been a strong trend in the last 12 months.’

The firm’s real estate group increased income by 7% to £9.3m from £8.5m, taking revenue figures above pre-2008 levels. The residential real estate team also grew 30% in fees. Currently, the entire property group is worth around £17.5m.

The firm also saw substantial growth in its trusts and tax group, which has now hiked income by 164% in the last five years. Forsters has invested in the practice with partner hires and a drive to develop referral relationships within international wealth centres such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US.

‘We have had a lot of work come in from the Far East and we aim to travel there regularly to make connections with clients and intermediaries,’ Roberts told Legal Business. ‘We have a very strong property advisory arm that links to our trust and tax and this gives us an advantage, particularly where clients’ investments are looking into property in the UK.’

The firm’s biggest transaction included acting for a Hong Kong-based client’s investment into the Greenwich Peninsula in July 2012, and the re-tender of The Crown Estate’s non-core and residential portfolio.

Roberts added: ‘We are strong in property and wealth management and when you compare us to the top private client firms, we are much stronger in property, which is why we manage to attract work from high-net-worth investors in both commercial and residential real estate.’

Not many firms will be feeling this bullish through 2013.