WLTM City based, profitable firm for friendship, maybe more, among mid-sized elite

Applications are invited from law firms to join The Lawyer’s mid-size elite. To be eligible, candidates should be City-based with a stable of largely domestic and mid-cap clients, and demonstrate excellent profitability and growth prospects. Strengths in corporate and real estate will be an advantage. Submissions from larger City firms with pretentions to a magic circle model will not be considered.

The Lawyer’s top 50 is our sneak preview of The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report. This time last year it was the magic circle which stumbled. Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields and Linklaters have now regained some ground (although frankly, Freshfields might want to start smelling the coffee some time soon), but it’s still a select group of mid-size firms making storming progress.

Each member of The Lawyer’s mid-size elite has its own set of strategic problems, however. Travers Smith has had an astounding year, but it is not that well hedged for the next corporate downturn. DLA Piper has plenty on its hands taking over the world, but it has to watch that it doesn’t become a parody of itself. Already at Berwin Leighton Paisner, the question is where it goes once the growth spurt is over, while SJ Berwin has unpleasant succession issues.

What of the other candidates for The Lawyer’s mid-size elite? They’re an eclectic bunch. Clyde & Co couldn’t look more different from the firms mentioned above, but it’s evolved into the Macfarlanes of EC3. Addleshaws may have a Northern accent, but it has become a credible City player.

Nabarros has broadened out from real estate to develop a nifty corporate practice, while Olswang has dropped the media tag to become a property player. Lawrence Graham and Taylor Wessing need to raise their games a little more, but both have clear visions of where they want to be.

Interestingly, real estate has been a key factor in all these firms’ strong performances: speak to any managing partner in the mid-tier and they’ll crow that the magic circle’s abandonment of traditional property work has created massive opportunities for them.

Five years ago, ambitious firms wanted to make it into the top 10; DLA even made that a stated objective. That aspiration is way out of date. Who wants to be in a group of firms defined by size when that group includes the likes of Norton Rose or Denton Wilde Sapte? The smart law firms are eschewing the global-lite model. As The Lawyer’s 50 shows, domestic business can be very, very profitable. Ask Slaughter and Maycatrin.griffiths@thelawyer.com