Move On Up: Walker Morris
9 January 2012
6 January 2014
19 June 2014
2 April 2014
30 April 2014
4 June 2014
Steady as she goes is the theme at Leeds firm Walker Morris, with high profitability offering a clue as to why so few partners move on
Leeds firm Walker Morris has had a remarkably stable few years, with little change in its partnership. Only eight partners have left the firm in five years, and just two of them quit for another firm, both in the 2010-11 financial year.
However, there has been one bumper year of promotions in that time, and the number of internal promotions across the five-year period averages out at just over two a year.
The spread of internal promotions has been broad, across several practice areas with no single focus. The emphasis has been primarily on real estate and planning, with three promotions in the real estate team and two in planning over the years, representing more than a third of the 13 new partners.
Finance has also been a theme, with one new finance partner in each year from 2007-08 to 2009-10.
The biggest year for internal promotions was 2007-08, when Walker Morris made up six associates to partner, while the two succeeding years saw just one promotion. The most recent financial year, 2010-11, saw three promotions.
Walker Morris had a partnership of 51 in the last financial year, with 10 female partners, or just under 20 per cent. The number of women promoted since 2006 is just three, but that represents 23 per cent of internal promotions so is a little better than overall figures.
Two women, Jeanette Harwood and Jacqueline Seddon, were made up in 2007-08 and one, Louise Power, was promoted in 2010-11.
While the firm has not made up a huge number of partners recently, it has not resorted to lateral hiring as a means of growth either. Only two partners have been recruited from other firms in the past five years.
In November 2008 Walker Morris recruited Addleshaw Goddard partner Jo Ratcliffe in a bid to extend its pensions capabilities. Ratcliffe had previously been head of Addleshaws’ Manchester pensions team.
Its recruitment in July 2010 of Hammonds’ Leeds commercial disputes head David Williams was a similar coup. Williams’ arrival brought the number of commercial litigation partners at Walker Morris to three.
Partners at Walker Morris tend to be loyal, with very little movement away from the firm. No partners left the partnership in either 2006-07 or 2008-09. In the intervening year, 2007-08, one partner took a career break and another left the law.
2009-10 saw the departure of two partners, both recent promotions. Public sector specialist Mark Sanderson went in-house while finance partner Neil Lupton went back to offshore firm Walkers, where he had previously worked as an associate.
In 2010-11 four left the partnership. Two moved to other UK firms, including Martin Price who joined Russell Jones & Walker in February 2011 to head its Manchester employment team.
Walker Morris’s long-time chairman Peter Smart announced his retirement after 24 years on the management committee, and another partner took a career break.
In the current financial year a further two partners - Paddy Woods and Andrew Whur, who formed Walker Morris’s licensing team - quit to set up boutique firm WoodsWhur.
One of the reasons for partners’ loyalty to Walker Morris could be its famously high profits. Even after dropping over the past few years average profit per equity partner was £509,000 in 2010-11, while average earnings per partner were a comfortable £320,000 - well above most regional rivals and on a par with many City firms.
The firm’s 40 per cent profit margin is helped by its determination to continue operating from a single office, while acting on transactions across the UK.
Walker Morris only bands associate pay for the first two years. Newly qualified solicitors are paid £35,000, rising to £38,000 the following year.
Promotions and senior hires
Jo Ratcliffe, pensions partner
Ratcliffe moved to Walker Morris from Addleshaw Goddard in 2008
David Williams, litigation partner
Former Hammonds partner Williams was recruited in July 2010
Peter Smart, chair
Smart stepped down as Walker Morris’s chair in 2010 after nine years in the post