Offshore market focuses on technology as turnover rises

The offshore legal market had a solid 2013, with several firms reporting double-digit increases in turnover and a pronounced pick-up in activity levels.

Research conducted for The Lawyer’s annual survey of the 30 biggest offshore firms shows that the overall number of lawyers working in the offshore legal market has not changed much between 2012 and 2013. However all those firms which provided an indication of their turnover growth said revenue had risen between 2012 and 2013.

While no offshore firm provides an actual turnover figure, indications of growth ranged from 2 per cent at Mourant Ozannes to 100 per cent at Jersey firm Hatstone Lawyers. Firms in all of the jurisdictions covered by the survey – Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar – said turnover had risen last year.

The rise in revenue came with a focus on investment in technology. A majority of firms said they had invested in technology of some kind or another last year, including new document management and billing systems, websites, and software. The investment – like that being carried out by many onshore firms – is mainly designed to increase firms’ efficiencies.

The survey also shows Maples and Calder has widened the gap in size between it and the next-largest firm, Appleby. After continued expansion last year, Maples now employs 254 lawyers around the world, including 89 partners – compared to 196 lawyers, of whom 64 are partners, at Appleby.

The top 30 firms this year are ranked by lawyer numbers, instead of partner numbers as in previous years. As a result Ogier, which has a higher partner-to-associate ratio than its rivals, moves up the rankings to fourth place from seventh last year (25 February 2013). Carey Olsen has also moved up the rankings due to the change in methodology.

For the first time this year’s survey asked firms to provide a jurisdictional breakdown of their headcount numbers. The resulting data shows that the Cayman Islands and Jersey are the largest jurisdictions, with firms in the top 30 collectively employing around 370 lawyers in each. Guernsey, where 244 top-30 lawyers work, is the next-biggest.

However there are as many top 30 firms with a presence in London as in Cayman, following the recent launches of Collas Crill (5 November 2013), Forbes Hare (17 September 2012) and O’Neal Webster (30 July 2013). A total of 12 firms now have London offices, despite Ogier pulling its lawyers out of the City last year (25 July 2013).

Offshore firms said the last six months of 2013 showed a decisive pick-up in activity levels. This evidence is backed up by the M&A report recently produced by Appleby, which showed that deal activity had grown in both volume and value terms throughout the year (17 February 2014).

Also see the full analysis of this year’s survey, The byteback begins, and the offshore top 30 rankings.