Legal Business

Financials update – Field Fisher Waterhouse pays the cost of merger mania


After a turbulent year that saw it unsuccessfully attempt merger discussions with both Laurence Graham and Osborne Clarke, Field Fisher Waterhouse has unveiled a disappointing set of financial results, with revenues and PEP both down.

The firm posted a 2.5% drop in revenues to £95m, compared to £97.6m in 2012, while profit per equity partner has decreased by 7% on the figure published in the LB100 last year, from to £434,000 £402,000 – following a 16% drop in 2011/2012. Equity partner numbers are up slightly, from 41 to 46.

However, the firm has reported an 8% rise in net profit available to full equity partners, amounting to £18.3m this year compared to £17m last year.

Some readjustment has also taken place within the equity, with the top of equity figures up 20% to £615,000 from £515,000 in 2012.

Speaking to Legal Business, managing partner Michael Chissick conceded that revenue and profitability were not where they should be, and attributed the below-par performance to a tough market. He does, however, expect an increase in both in the next couple of years.

‘The results are not where I want them to be or where I anticipate they will be going over the coming years but we’re making a lot of investments now in new laterals and new offices and it takes some time for that to come through,’ he said.

Despite a respectable offering in practice areas including financial services, privacy & information, medical negligence and technology & outsourcing, it hasn’t been a good run of late for the 150-partner firm, having acrimoniously failed in two sets of merger talks with LG in June 2012 and Osborne Clarke five months later.

Chissick, who told Legal Business in an interview last year that the firm wanted to be more international, now says it is no longer seeking a suitor.

‘We’re not in the market,’ he said. ‘We did discuss it last year and we concluded we don’t have a perfect merger partner. We’re focused on this business now and thinking about who we were going to merger with, is why the figures are down now. You’ll see results improving year on year now. It needs some fine tuning but that doesn’t mean all the ingredients are not in place.’

Other mid-tier City rivals to unveil financials in the last week include Speechly Bircham, which reported flat financials for the 2012/13 year to £57.5m from £57.6m following its very own failed merger talks with international private client firm Withers.

Legal Business

Revolving Doors: Field Fisher hires Taylor Wessing’s David Kent as Irwin Mitchell and TLT make key hires


Taylor Wessing’s long reputed head of inward investment David Kent is to join Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) in a week that has also seen Irwin Mitchell and TLT make strategic partner hires.

Kent is a corporate partner specialising in advising emerging growth and listed companies from the US, Canada and Europe on structuring, establishing and operating businesses in the UK and Europe, mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures, technology transfers, distribution and licensing agreements.

A Taylor Wessing veteran, Kent co-founded the firm’s Cambridge office in 2002 and led the merger discussions between Taylor Joynson Garrett and German firm Wessing, which went live in 2002. He later co-founded the firm’s Tech City office in London in 2011.

Kent’s hire comes as FFW has also hired Pinsent Masons legal director George Gillham in its London tax and disputes practice and SJ Berwin senior associate Robin Spender, who will become finance partner.

These are the latest in a series of hires for the firm, including Eversheds’ City corporate partner Neil Matthews last week. However, the firm in May lost a three-partner franchising team led by rated partner Mark Abell to Bird & Bird.

In the north-west, meanwhile, DLA Piper IP dispute resolution partner Graeme Orchison became TLT’s second partner hire to launch its new Manchester office this summer.

Orchison, who specialises in heavyweight trademark, design and patent cases in the High Court and appellate courts, is the latest recruit in an on-going process to build the firm’s base in Manchester’s Spinningfields, which will open with a team of eight, including three new partners and three assistants. The firm anticipates the office, which will initially offer commercial contract, commercial litigation and IP litigation work, will grow to 20 to 30 people within its first 18 months.

Orchison is the second DLA partner to join the TLT Manchester team after commercial partner Stuart Campbell joined earlier this month, along with Pinsent Masons legal director Emma Flower.

TLT’s managing partner, David Pester (pictured), said: ‘These strategic appointments support our aim to deepen our expertise and are in direct response to demand for services from some of our major clients based in the north of England. The launch of an office in Manchester supports our strategy to have a strong UK-wide presence from which to deliver services and also supports our industry sector focus.’

Elsewhere in the north-west, Irwin Mitchell also appointed a trio of partners to its family practice across Manchester and Leeds. Louise Halford joined the Manchester office from Pannone alongside Fiona Turner from London family firm CKFT, while former DWF partner Carol Grundell joined the firm in Leeds.

Halford has 15 years’ experience dealing with complex child disputes cases involving foreign jurisdictional problems and is recognised by the Legal 500 as a leading expert in child abduction cases.

Irwin Mitchell’s head of national family law Martin Loxley said: ‘The vision of the family team is to be the leading firm in complex relationship breakdown in the UK.

‘We are seeing more and more clients all the time approaching us for advice on international matters and we are delighted to be welcoming these new partners to our innovative and growing team,’ he added.

Legal Business

Comment: Say what you like, City practices taking on larger real estate is a good sign


If upgrading your square footage is any litmus test of how City firms feel about the future then a raft of them including DLA Piper, Bird & Bird and Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) can be said to be in confident mood.

As reported by Property Week on Tuesday (11 June), top Global 100 firm DLA is the most recent UK firm looking to expand its City office space, hiring Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) to carry out a search for up to 200,000 sq ft of space, an increase on the 110,000 sq ft office it currently occupies in Noble Street.

Last week, top 40 UK firm FFW reportedly placed a bid to take on several floors of a Thames-side site, and Bird and Bird, which recently announced a turnover increase of 6%, last month took on 142,500 sq ft of office space at Great Portland Estates’ New Fetter Lane office building. Hill Dickinson, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Gateley all increased their City space late last year.

On the one hand, no real trend can be read into the upgrades as many have either been driven by firms’ need to consolidate multiple sites or move out of old, no longer fit for purpose buildings. DLA, which currently operates out of two bases in London, is looking to bring both offices under one roof prior to the expiry of its current leases. Bird & Bird, meanwhile, is consolidating three into one.

Furthermore, amidst only fledgling signs of economic recovery in Europe, nor should the moves be taken as a sign of City law firms being over confident. Many firms are deeply aware of client perception and JLL director Richard Proctor said: ‘I don’t see a trend of people taking extravagant office space. They are saying that they have got to strike the balance between appearing professional without clients asking why their office looks so expensive.’

All this aside, the expansions are nonetheless a positive sign and Perry said: ‘We have seen a lot of growth in the last few years, the firm has a lot of ambitious plans, we are very confident for the future.’

One trend that has arisen out of the moves is more visible creativity in the way City practices are using their space.

Proctor said: ‘All law firms are looking at ways they can use their space more effectively, include subletting space they don’t use to reduce their overheads.’

Perry added: ‘I suspect that there’s been a movement in the nature of the space that firms wish to use for direct client use so I think certainly we are looking to have much more imaginative options for our client facing area.’

While this may be so, only a handful of firms including Addleshaw Goddard, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and Eversheds are taking the plunge by going open plan. At least one Magic Circle firm has considered and dismissed the idea of dispensing with their closed office space, and US firms’ use of larger offices to reward those higher up the hierarchy means they will be even further behind.

‘It will take a long time for the large firms, particularly US firms, to move to an open plan model,’ Proctor says.

Legal Business

FFW and Travers Smith shake up senior roles


City firms Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) and Travers Smith have overhauled senior management, with each seeing new appointments to the top roles.

Head of technology and outsourcing Michael Chissick has been named FFW’s new managing partner, replacing Matthew Lohn, who will take up the re-introduced role of senior partner.

Chissick said: ‘I am leading the firm through a transformation. We want to move away from the negative market perception and create a firm culture that is modern and forward thinking.’

Legal Business

Picking up Field Fisher


After years in the mid-market wilderness, Field Fisher Waterhouse is finally ready for a revolution. It wants to grow internationally and shake up its meandering management. The right suitor might just find a little sweetheart

The last 12 months have not been easy for Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW). The acrimonious failure of merger talks with LG was followed by discussions with Osborne Clarke (OC) that leaked rather earlier than hoped. Then the firm’s newly appointed managing partner Matthew Lohn, tasked with turning the firm around, suffered a family bereavement that has taken him out of the business for a prolonged leave of absence.

Add to that the departure of the firm’s much-liked chief operating officer Charlie Keeling, a public squabble over the way the LG discussions ended, and a drop in PEP of 20%, and it’s clear this is a firm in need of a boost.

Legal Business

Panic has ramped up merger mania


A clear message from last month’s LB100 report was that the merger of two firms that have ‘simply cuddled together for bodily warmth to escape the chill of the recession’ could be a defective strategy. However, it seems that the appetite for mergers between struggling firms in the mid-market shows no signs of slowing down.

Legal Business

Tough decisions needed for LG/FFW


Ahead of our LB100 report next month, one merger is on the table that requires some hard choices now to be a future success.

Lawrence Graham (LG) has confirmed it is ‘evaluating a merger’ with City rival Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW). The deal would put the new firm comfortably in the top 25 of the LB100 with an expected turnover of over £150m.