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White & Case nears $3bn mark as expense control drives double-digit PEP hike

White & Case has taken another step towards the $3bn turnover mark, posting a 4.3% increase in global revenues to $2.95bn for 2023, despite London turnover dipping 1.6% to $444m.

The international firm saw global revenues rise from $2.83bn in 2022, when London turnover stood at $451m. Profit per equity partner (PEP) increased by 12.7% during 2023 to $3.16m, while revenue per lawyer rose 6.9% to $1.16m.

Speaking to Legal Business, vice chair and former London head Oliver Brettle said: ‘While many of the global challenges which characterised 2022 continued into 2023, it ended up being a very solid year for White & Case. These record global financial results were driven by our clear strategy to grow profitability, reflecting return on investment that we’ve made in key markets, practices and industries that matter to our clients and making sure that we invest long term.’

Globally, the firm made 36 lateral hires in 2023, with London laterals including Kirkland & Ellis competition partner Michael Engel and Travers Smith tax partner Jessica Kemp. This recruitment has continued into the new year, which has already seen 15 lateral hires, including Patrick Sarch, who is rejoining the firm as head of UK public M&A after three years at Hogan Lovells.

Inigo Esteve, who has been executive partner of the firm’s London office since November last year, agreed with Brettle that 2023 was a ‘solid’ year. ‘While revenue was marginally down on 2022, it was almost identical to our record year of 2021 – I think this continues to show the strength of the office, notwithstanding what was clearly a very challenging market backdrop.’

He added: ‘The way we look at the London office is not just on a single year. If you look at the growth over a prolonged period of time, it tells the true story. Over the last five years from 2019, the London office revenue has increased by nearly 32%. That is a more accurate reflection of the importance of the office in terms of how it contributes to the firm as a whole.’

In terms of practice areas, Brettle highlighted financial restructuring and insolvency, project development and finance and capital markets as having a particularly strong year.

On why the increase in PEP outstripped the revenue increase, Brettle attributed that to firm keeping a close eye on expenses, which increased by just 1% from $1.5bn to $1.53bn.

‘It goes back to careful management of expenses,’ he said. ‘We managed expenses broadly flat – if you do that and revenues go up, then you end up with strong PEP growth. Part of the trick in any business is that there is a tendency when people are busier to grow things. You do more travel, or you add more office expenses, but we were very careful last year to manage things carefully and the PEP increase came as a result.’

Headline London work over the last financial year included advising Vue International on its recapitalisation, while the banking practice advised the Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance on a UK Export Finance-backed £26.3m equivalent loan. The firm’s disputes team also acted for UK Finance, the official trade body for the UK’s banking and finance industry, in its Supreme Court intervention in Philipp v Barclays Bank, which considered banks’ duties to customers who are victims of authorised push payment fraud.

Looking forward, Brettle remains cautious: ‘A lot of the volatile features of 2023 have continued into 2024. The macroeconomic situation is looking better, but there are still lots of reasons for caution. The year has begun well, but I know well that you don’t predict on the basis of two months anything specific for the year ahead.’

‘So, on strategy we’re focused on delivering a client service which sets White & Case apart from our competitors. We’re going to continue to focus on that and we are going to continue to invest in the US, in the practices that matter most to our clients, but we’re also going to continue to invest in places like London and in people who can deliver exceptional service.’