2nd place: Stewarts
3rd place: Shaw Pittman, London Office
Shortlisted: Alexander Harris, Capsticks, Kemp & Co
The winner of the Niche Firm of the Year Award, sponsored by Barclays, is 14-partner London firm Memery Crystal.
While the firm has always been active in corporate finance, it came to wider notice last year when it romped home in The Lawyer IPO 2000: AIM Survey. It handled no fewer than 26 alternative investment market (AIM) floats last year, giving it the largest market share of any firm on AIM work, and dwarfing larger City rivals. Its four-partner corporate team has clearly won the confidence of houses such as Seymour Pierce and Investec Henderson Crosthwaite. As such, it is a textbook example of what a niche practice can achieve in corporate finance without compromising the virtues of a partner-led, small-firm environment.
Second is Stewarts, a tiny Lincoln's Inn practice, which specialises in acting for spinal cord injuries in compensation claims and which has developed a nationwide practice handling claims worth £100m. Rather than the pile-high, sell-cheap philosophy prevalent in certain sections of the personal injury (PI) legal world, Stewarts deliberately took the decision to reduce caseloads to a low level and to introduce a small team structure comprising one partner and two assistant solicitors, plus a wheelchair user as an independent adviser. This approach has bred success: in the past year Stewarts has advised on a string of successful catastrophic injury claims, including the largest criminal injury award and the highest award ever for a paraplegic injury.
Third is the London office of Shaw Pittman, which opened in 1998. Despite opening at the start of the dotcom boom, it made the brave – and ultimately correct – decision of ignoring the investor hysteria and headed instead for outsourcing and telecoms transactions. Three deals are testament to how far Shaw Pittman has come. It advised Cable & Wireless in a deal with Nortel Networks to implement the first internet protocol over a public network. It represented the Home Office and its agency the Police Information Technology Organisation on the installation of a new national digital radio emergency communication service. More recently, it won work from AstraZeneca on a global outsourcing IT and telecoms deal spanning 70 countries.
2nd place: Stewarts