City 50 – City Break

With a few years of pain behind them, City 50 firms are feeling better. But is it still too early to bring out the champagne?

Previous concerns that London’s place on the global financial stage could be eroded seem to have been forgotten this year. While the UK economy is still in a state of flux, the capital has maintained its standing as one of the world’s leading financial centres, adding some confidence to the majority of the industry’s leading law firms. Average London revenue across the 50 largest firms in the capital fell by just 4% during 2009/10. Still feeling the aftershocks of the global financial crisis, the numbers made for tough reading. But after a more stable period, in part thanks to some canny management, an increase in litigation mandates, a recovering corporate market and a rise in financial work, the landscape doesn’tlook too bad. This year, City 50 firms saw revenues remain flat compared with last year. And while London offices continue to contribute less to international firms’ global turnover, there were still some impressive performances.

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North – Northern Echo

The struggle continues. While the North peer group maintains its position and outperforms other regions, average revenue has grown marginally with the departure of DWF and Hill Dickinson, which have joined the Major UK firms group (see page 94). In last year’s review, these firms were £15m and £21m respectively ahead of the rest of the pack, and this year sees the gulf between the haves and the have-nots widen even further.

Weightmans is now the largest firm in the North group by revenue, and this lead will increase in 2012 when its recent acquisitive spree is taken into account. This year the firm added 200 staff through the acquisition of Vizards Wyeth’s London insurance team and its 1 May merger with Liverpool firm Mace & Jones.

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Central – Stuck in the Middle

The absence of this peer group’s two leading performers, Mills & Reeve and Gateley, has seen averages for the Central region take on a distinctly ‘average’ hue. The region is now officially the worst performing peer group in the LB100 in revenue terms, a wooden spoon that it inherited last year from the South group and has secured once more in 2011.

The simple fact is that the majority of the firms that have Major UK status dominate this region of the market. Strip them away and what’s left behind are firms that are surviving on scraps.

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Global Elite – Scaling up

With an unerring consistency, the UK Global Elite has maintained its grip on the market throughout the recession and 2010/11 was no different. Some will have hoped that the global law firm may become an endangered beast, but if anything the last few years have made them stronger.

While it hasn’t been easy for the global giants, there has been a fair bit of soul searching, cost cutting and re-jigging of business plans, which has resulted in this group of six firms holding tight to a 36% market share of the entire LB100.

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Cities colliding

Several Global London firms were back on the investment trail in 2010 although overall headcount in the top 50 dropped. LB looks at the main movers in the City’s non-UK legal elite.

The UK economy may be suffering under the weight of swingeing cuts and, Germany aside, the prospects on the continent may still look bleak, but London’s large band of overseas law firms have not exactly been retreating into their shells. Many have been spying opportunities in the usual form of lateral partner hires, others such as Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal have pinned their colours to a UK merger.

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