Legal Business

The age of turbulence has only just begun for the UK’s top 100 firms

Respectable, yes, but 2012/13 was a tough year, even by the post-Lehman standards law firm leaders have become accustomed to. While a frantic run of consolidation and international expansion pushed revenue up 8% to £19.1bn, like-for-like growth was far more subdued.

On all objective measures of productivity and profitability, there were further slides, even before accounting for inflation. Back-of-the envelope calculations indicate that the UK’s top 100 law firms are about 25-30% off their boom-time highs in real terms underlying profitability.

In trying to respond to that pressure there has been a genuine shift in gravity among the UK’s top 25 over the last half decade, with the group reborn in truly globalised form. When people used to talk about law being global, until recently they really meant six or so firms. Now it’s 20-plus. With SJ Berwin to join King & Wood Mallesons, and Ashurst this autumn to vote on full integration with its Australian partner, this group is to a considerable extent operating in a different space to the rest of the LB100. Average revenue in this group is just short of £600m, against £98m in the second quartile, while underlying profitability is nearly double that of the next 25.