Turnover crept forward at Cobbetts this year by just over one per cent. Managing partner Michael Shaw claims that the firm was focusing on profitability and average PEP is up by 25 per cent, hitting £300,000 and so fulfilling Shaw’s 2006 pledge to reach that target within two years. But then that goal is easier to achieve if you reduce headcount and overhaul your partnership system. Cobbetts lost 83 fee-earners last year, while the equity has become slimmer. Twenty-eight out of 93 partners, or a third of the total partnership, are equitised.
The firm operates a modified lockstep system. Assured equity partners’ earnings are entirely based on points awarded by an elected committee, while 10 per cent of variable equity partners’ remuneration is contingent on the firm hitting budget. Profits are distributed over 12 months after the end of the financial year.
The changes to the partnership have coincided with a number of departures. Exits included Manchester-based George Macmillan and his property finance team to regional rival Halliwells. While in March a 31-strong team, including five social housing partners led by Andy Ballard, left the Birmingham office for Shoosmiths.
Last year saw Cobbetts launch a niche London corporate finance offering of 10 staff headed by corporate partners Simon Jones and Stuart Robertson recruited from Wedlake Bell. The office is focused on AIM work, which had a good run until the downturn. The firm gained recognition for flotations in the oil and gas and mining sectors, placing the firm in the top 20 AIM practices.
Cobbetts’ reliance on property and corporate leaves it exposed to the current downturn. These two groups constitute 73 per cent of firm-wide turnover and Cobbetts has already announced two redundancy consultations since the summer. However, litigation and debt collection, which together make up about a fifth of turnover, in addition to some non-debt driven property clients should have a hedging effect.