Comment: LB100 firms forced to make own luck as tough times continue

The headline isn’t great, but it’s not bad either. Judging our annual Legal Business 100 (LB100) results, the industry has done better than expected overall, at least compared to 2015, when the group barely achieved growth despite a relative rebound in the UK and global economy.

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Case study: Berwin Leighton Paisner

Had merger talks earlier this year with Miami-based Global 100 firm, Greenberg Traurig, been successful, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) would now be part of a £1.1bn firm and a £5m fall in revenue would look like a drop in the ocean. As it is, BLP’s strategy is under scrutiny again with its recent revival looking short-lived.

Revenue fell 2% at BLP in 2015/16 to £254m, while profit per equity partner (PEP) was more positive with 4% growth to £687,000. This is in sharp contrast to the rapid growth of the previous financial year, when revenue rose 5% to hit a record £259m and PEP surged 22% to £661,000. Continue reading “Case study: Berwin Leighton Paisner”

Case study: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

By some margin the strongest-performing Magic Circle firm for the 2015/16 year, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer posted 7% revenue growth from £1.245bn to £1.327bn and an 8% profit per equity partner (PEP) hike to £1.47m from £1.37m.

This performance is particularly impressive after a year of investment. The firm pushed hard on the development of its legal services hub in 2015, gaining the lease to its Manchester office in July last year. Rapidly scaled up, Freshfields’ Manchester staff will move into new premises double the size of the current office from early 2017, accommodating legal services staff as well as human resources, IT, marketing and business development, office management, document specialists and change management. Plans are already underway to open a second legal services hub in either the US or Canada to offer a 24-hour service to clients. Continue reading “Case study: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer”

Case study: Mishcon de Reya

The standout performer from this year’s second 25 is once again Mishcon de Reya which, along with Macfarlanes, has been the pace setter in this peer group over the last five years. The firm has come a long way since it first made its debut into the top 50 four years ago in 2012. Over five years, revenue has climbed more than 100% from £65m.

Mishcon revealed robust profits for the 2015/16 financial year, with profit per equity partner (PEP) up 11% to £1m as global revenue grew to £132.7m from £116.7m, an increase of 14%. The firm did, however, this year downsize its Manhattan practice to focus on IP. As such, New York revenue came in at £4.8m, a considerable drop given the business in recent years generated upwards of £13m.

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Case study: TLT

‘We want to be a top 50 law firm. We have the trappings, but we’re not quite there yet.’ So said TLT managing partner David Pester to Legal Business three years ago. This year that ambition has been realised, with the Bristol-based law firm entering the top 50 for the first time.

TLT continued its strong growth trajectory in 2015/16, posting a 15% increase in turnover to £71.6m while profit per equity partner (PEP) was up 10% to £253,000. Overall, the firm has grown in turnover 65% from £43.3m over the last five years, particularly impressive considering the firm’s place in the squeezed national mid-market.

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Case study: Bond Dickinson

National player Bond Dickinson had a disappointing year financially, with turnover down 3% to £104m, while profit per equity partner (PEP) has also dropped 3% to £275,000, a stark contrast to the firm’s performance in last year’s Legal Business 100, where PEP soared 26% to £284,000 and turnover climbed 8% to £107m. Blaming the results on a harder mid-market and significant IT investment, managing partner Jonathan Blair says that despite the tougher conditions, real estate, private client and transport all performed particularly well.

‘Real estate was strong for us – on the operational property side, on the investor side, on the house building side,’ he says. ‘Private wealth has always been an area for us that has been very reliable. It seems to be able to withstand the vagaries you get in litigation, which tends to be counter cyclical, or M&A activity or any transactional activity. Private wealth is always pretty strong – we have grown that and worked hard on it.’

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The Last Word – Place your bets

‘People want to be in a firm that is winning better work and achieving better results. There’s been a shift in expectation levels.’

Juan Picón, DLA Piper

From post-Brexit investment to the threat of accountants, LB100 leaders tell us how the cards are stacked

Moving quickly

‘As a firm which is investing outside the UK, the cost of investment has gone up, but the returns have also gone up, so you’ve got to put a premium on being able to identify the right opportunities and be able to get return back quickly. When times are uncertain people often try to hang on to cash.’

Peter Hasson, chief executive, Clyde & Co

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