Awards preview: law firm of the year

On 22 June, 1400 people will crowd into the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane for the most eagerly-awaited event of the year. With only one week to go, The Lawyer brings you a sneak preview of the shortlisted individuals and teams


Berwin Leighton Paisner

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has succeeded in the mid-market like few other firms and has the results to show for it. Revenues were up 12 per cent and profits per equity partner were up by a huge 40 per cent. Key to the firm’s resurgence has been its growth in corporate and finance. From a position of relative weakness at the time of its merger, BLP has been increasingly visible in mid-market corporate. In 2003-04 it was one of the best performers in the highly fashionable AIM sector, advising on no fewer than 11 floats. The corporate department now accounts for a third of the firm’s turnover. Its increased deal flow from major institutions such as Royal Bank of Scotland has also gained it credibility in mid-market finance.

Burges Salmon

Bristol’s premier firm had a few surprises in store last year. Partner-level lateral hires are a rarity at Burges Salmon, but last year’s recruitment of Andrij Jurkiw from Pinsents paid off in spades. The firm is now advising retail giant Argos on competition matters. It has also been visible on some of the headline deals of the last year, most notably closing the £2.5bn Skynet 5 PFI for the Ministry of Defence and acting for the National Trust on the Stonehenge road inquiry. It appointed a new senior partner, Bob Smyth, converted to a limited-liability partnership and announced plans to spend £50m on new premises in Bristol’s city centre. All in all, another stellar year for Burges Salmon.

Clyde & Co

Clyde & Co is synonymous with entrepreneurialism and risk-taking: in the 1990s it was Belgrade, and this year it was Baghdad, where it has attracted a variety of lucrative clients, such as the Kurdish government and US broadcasters. In the last 12 months, Clydes’ entrepreneurial spirit has led to visits by its scouts to Libya following the entry of various oil giants; in Dubai it is building capacity for handling India and Afghanistan-related work; and after years in the waiting, it finally got a licence to operate in Abu Dhabi. London has also profited from hiring most of CMS Cameron McKenna’s aviation team.

Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners

Not a deal has gone by in Italy over the past 12 months without Gianni Origoni’s involvement in some shape or form. High points included its role on the monumental Telecom Italia restructuring, which dominated the Italian market for much of 2003. However, Gianni Origoni proved that it is much more than a deal machine. A number of key hires lie behind the firm’s powered-up domestic growth, with high points being the opening of the Naples office and strengthening areas such as antitrust with new recruits. In a market that has seen a vast influx of expansionist UK firms, the resolutely independent Gianni Origoni has retained a strong sense of culture and kept its pole position as a premier practice.

Lovells

It has been yet another good year for Lovells. The firm’s new senior partner John Young is acknowledged as being a good counterweight to managing partner Lesley MacDonagh. The firm has powered ahead with its global expansion, making progress in Asia and, more importantly, in Germany, which it looks to have cracked. The firm’s private equity practice continues to thrive both in the UK and in Germany, picking up the Barclay Brothers’ instruction on the Hollinger Group auction in London and virtually cornering HG Capital’s work in Germany. Litigation, as you would expect, is still a major strength, but the firm has made crucial improvements in its finance practice which have helped it to become more rounded.

Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw

Popular belief has it that transatlantic tie-ups do not work – except, that is, for Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw. After two years as a merged firm, it is all starting to pay off, especially for London. In a difficult corporate market revenues and profits were up in the UK. The firm has managed to turn the idea of transatlantic cross-selling into reality, most notably on Galen Weston’s £598m bid for Selfridges, which was originally a referral from Chicago. The Selfidges bid underlined Mayer Brown’s move up the food chain in the City. The UK management team – highly influential in the global firm, despite London’s comparative size – has moved to up productivity in line with US chargeable hours. Impressively, it has managed it without any fallout locally.