3 June 2002
It's that time of year again. The results of a year-long endeavour are awaited and while jubilation awaits the winners, heartache and a 'maybe-next-year' mentality beckons to the losers. Eurovision has been and gone, but The Lawyer Awards - the definitive reckoning of law firm performance - still have to be decided.
Insurance firms do not have their own awards category, preferring to enter for litigation or corporate team of the year. So, for one column only, and in the spirit of Eurovision, it's time for the insurance firms to don their sequins and back-comb their hair as we decide which firm is this year's Latvia.
Turnover and profit figures for five of the UK's top insurance-focused firms are up. It's full marks for Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, Clyde & Co, Davies Arnold Cooper (DAC), Kennedys and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. All-singing, all-dancing insurance practices are back in fashion thanks to an increase in contentious work and a hardening of core insurance markets. With even Independent Insurance-blighted DAC able to maintain turnover and profitability, insurance firms have reason to feel a little smug.
Despite a recession-hit corporate practice in Hong Kong, Barlows has surged forward in London. Turnover passed the £60m mark for the office and confidence is high. In terms of practice areas, professional indemnity continues to be regarded as the jewel in Barlows' crown. The firm has entrenched relationships with the big accountancy firms. Partner Clare Canning, fresh from her victory in defending Pricewaterhouse-Coopers against a £20m claim from Elton John, has been retained by Ernst & Young to handle Equitable Life-related claims. And for a firm synonymous with litigation, Barlows has also made great strides in redefining itself as a corporate player.
Like Barlows, Clyde & Co is undergoing something of a renaissance. It has managed to boost corporate activity, but not at the expense of its reputation for insurance or shipping work. Of the five firms mentioned above, Clyde & Co makes the most money. Turnover this year is up 11 per cent on last year's £71m.
Corporate activity within the insurance sector has remained strong against the downturn. Hardening markets and unappealing alternatives for investors are bringing capital into insurance. Barlows, Clyde & Co and Norton Rose are staking out the non-contentious territory as investors take an interest in Lloyd's.
Along with shipping rival Ince & Co, Clyde& Co picks up the lion's share of Commercial Court work. This year also saw Clyde & Co boost its Paris office by merging with French firm Honig Preel Mettetal Buffat Coulon. But international expansion is a thorny problem for UK insurance firms, which have a thriving market on their doorstep, so why invest elsewhere?
Like Barlows, Clyde & Co has an established presence in South East Asia. Arguably more internationally-minded than its insurance peers, it also boasts offices in Greece, Dubai and Caracas, and it seems that the firm is ready to tackle Europe.
Reynolds Porter has to be Malta - the perennial bridesmaid of Eurovision. Solid performance, fairly tuneful, helpfully neutral for voting purposes, but just not a winner. Still, it had a rocking 2001, with turnover up 20 per cent to almost £36m and average profits per partner soaring to £225,000 from last year's £191,000.
Maintaining strong litigation and growing corporate practices, Barlows and Clyde & Co are inching away from their rivals and fighting one another for the top spot. The judges have decided that this year, for its French merger and highest turnover, Clyde & Co comes top. Douze points.