The market for the world’s largest law firms remains as reliably turbulent as ever. The group as a whole eked out a 4% hike in revenues to generate $84.9bn, a figure slightly flattering underlying growth due to a handful of sizeable mergers – including the creation of Herbert Smith Freehills and King & Wood Mallesons. Revenue per lawyer was flat. In real terms, the world’s legal elite is once again modestly shrinking and headline income growth slowed in comparison to the 2011/12 year. Conditions remain considerably better than seen during 2009/10 but are a long way from pre-2008 boom years.
It has been another year that has re-enforced the overall dominance of US firms, largely due to the strength of the US economy and a delayed revival in contentious work. Of course, the relevant performance of UK advisers since 2008 looks considerably worse due to the sustained weaknesses of sterling and the euro but by any measure, the Magic Circle has lost some ground. Compared to their mid-2000s’ heyday, the profits gap against key New York rivals has again ballooned out, while a group of broad-service US rivals are now challenging their scale and global reach.