Aim and fire: how to make your mark on the Aim rankings

Pinsent MasonsCarey Olsen and Memery Crystal. When it comes to Adviser Rankings’ listing of which law firms are advising which Aim clients, it can sometimes feel a little like groundhog day. 

Over the three months to 5 August 2014, rankings leader Pinsent Masons increased its total number of Aim-listed clients from 56 to 60, leaving its two closest rivals playing catch up – Carey Olsen with 44 and Memery Crystal with 43 clients. 

But if you cast your eye back to this time last year, it’s easy to see which firms have been stirring up the Aim market.

Two in particular, Stephenson Harwood and DLA Piper, particularly stand out. Ringing in at numbers four and five respectively, the pair have grown their Aim practices substantially since August 2013. DLA’s has increased from 31 to 36 clients, while Stephenson Harwood’s has soared from 31 to 39 (2 September 2013). 

So, what’s their secret? Somewhat surprisingly, it’s not actually to target Aim-listed clients.

“We’re not specifically looking to grow our Aim client base to the expense of other clients,” says DLA Piper’s UK corporate chief Bob Bishop. “Instead, we’re identifying fast-growing clients across borders and practice groups.” 

So, the idea is to bring businesses on board at a young age, and watch them develop into fully-fledged main market outfits – replicating the success the firm enjoyed with ethical investor Better Capital. 

Over the past year, DLA Piper’s total number of stock market clients has increased from 61 to 69, ranking it tenth among all UK firms. 

For DLA Piper, this growth has come off the back of a significant business development push – seeking out young and dynamic companies firmly entrenched within the firm’s sectors, and winning work from them. 

And it’s aware that cherry-picking the best clients demands an aggressive sort of approach. 

“We want to grow along with the market, but also by taking market share,” explains Bishop. “It’s not a case of the market being up 10 per cent, so we want our client base to rise by 10 per cent. We want it to increase by 15 or 20 per cent. We can only do that if we work for clients who used to be someone else’s clients.”

One example is the firm’s work for online fashion outlet Boohoo.com, which made its Aim market debut in March 2014. The client instructed DLA Piper to hold its hand during the process, relegating its former key corporate adviser Pannone Corporate to a more minor role on the transaction (1 April 2014). That relationship came about, in large part, by Boohoo.com hiring a new general counsel – former DLA lawyer Louise Fishwick – from the Co-operative Group in late 2013. 

Market leader by client volume, Pinsent Masons, takes a similar approach. “On the one hand we’re very much focused on the Aim market,” says corporate partner Jon Harris. “But we target all companies that are looking to list.”

Again, it’s a case of bringing the right clients on board. Particularly those within the firm’s core sectors of technology, energy, infrastructure, manufacturing and financial services. Harris pinpoints new client smoke detector company Sprue Aegis as an example of the sort of businesses they’re striving to win work from.

“They have high barriers to entry, a good market position and both domestic and international interests,” he says.

As a result, Pinsent Masons sits second in the rankings of total stock market clients with 103 on its books – nestled behind market leader Slaughter and May which boasts a total of 122. The only two firms to breach the 100 listed clients mark, they’re ahead of the likes of Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Norton Rose Fulbright

Among the biggest winners in terms of total stock market clients over the period were Stephenson Harwood which grew its total from 57 to 69, Eversheds which increased its tally from 64 to 74, and Linklaters which rose from 80 to 87. 

Total number of Aim clients      
Rank Aug ’14 Rank May ’14 Firm Total clients Aug ’14 Total clients May ’14
1 1 Pinsent Masons 60 54
2 3 Carey Olsen 44 43
3 2 Memery Crystal 43 44
4 5 Stephenson Harwood 39 35
5 7 DLA Piper 36 34
5 4 Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co 36 38
7 8 Appleby 35 33
8 6 Fieldfisher 34 34
9 8 Kerman & Co 33 33
10 10 Fasken Martineau 30 31
Total number of stock market clients      
Rank Aug ’14 Rank May ’14 Firm Total clients Aug ’14 Total clients May ’14
1 1 Slaughter and May 122 119
2 2 Pinsent Masons 103 96
3 3 Herbert Smith Freehills 92 94
4 4 Carey Olsen 91 91
5 5 Linklaters 87 83
6 5 Norton Rose Fulbright 83 83
7 7 Ashurst 80 81
8 8 Eversheds 74 75
9 9 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 71 71
10 10 DLA Piper 69 66
10 12 Stephenson Harwood 69 62

Source: Adviser Rankings