Excellence breeds diversity in 20 years of The Lawyer Awards

A full two decades ago, The Lawyer launched its first-ever awards. They were billed as being devoted to finding excellence in the legal profession, and 20 years on, the same applies.

Back then, the categories on offer were very different, but the firms entering were surprisingly similar. Some (Booth & Co and Stephens Innocent) have merged. Others (Dipp Lupton Broomhead) have morphed into global colossi. But despite these changes, scanning down the list of shortlisted firms over two decades reveals a reassuringly familiar cast.

Eversheds was the inaugural winner of the Law Firm of the Year award, triumphing in a postal ballot of readers. But among the finalists in this category was Freshfields, beginning a run of success in The Lawyer Awards which lasts to this day.

Analysis of the last 15 years of shortlists – those which most closely match the awards of today in the categories on offer – reveals that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, as of course it now is, has been shortlisted for firm or practice area awards more than any other. The magic circle outfit has been named on our shortlists no fewer than 56 times in that period, winning 12 awards including Law Firm of the Year in 2008.

The list of most-shortlisted firms naturally skews towards the larger outfits, particularly the magic circle. But the beauty of The Lawyer Awards is that the diversity of categories allows for a diversity of shortlisted entrants.

Indeed this year’s Law Firm of the Year shortlist is a pretty good representation of the UK’s legal market right now, with silver circle incumbent Macfarlanes jostling with mid-tier success stories like RPC and Mishcon de Reya, national powerhouses such as DWF or Pinsent Masons, and innovative players such as Slater & Gordon.

Perhaps the most diverse shortlists over the years have been those for Litigation and Employment Team of the Year. Both practice areas are those in which boutique or smaller firms can flourish, and this is represented on the shortlists.

The winners of Litigation Team of the Year have included Manchester personal injury firm Amelans and public law specialists Birnberg Peirce, with other smaller or national firms like Freeth Cartwright, Hempsons, Rosenblatt Solicitors, SC Andrew or Steeles Law being placed or shortlisted.

Meanwhile Employment Team of the Year has been won by a wide range of organisations, including barristers’ chambers such as Cloisters and trade unions like the National Union of Teachers, as well as firms ranging in size from international to boutique.

Indeed both these categories have attracted a far wider range of entries than some of the more City-focused transactional categories, like corporate. Employment and Litigation Team of the Year have seen around 50 firms each reaching the shortlist in the last 15 years – some several times, some just once – compared to just over 30 firms on the combined Corporate Team of the Year Shortlist.

Litigation Team of the Year has been the source of many of Herbert Smith Freehills’ placings over the years. The firm, which has always been known as a litigation powerhouse, has won this prize an impressive four times (2000, 2007, 2009 and 2010) although it has not been shortlisted since that last victory.

In Employment, legacy Russell Jones & Walker is the stand-out firm, winning the inaugural prize in 2000 and repeating the feat in 2002 as well as being placed another three times.

In total, just under 270 separate firms have been shortlisted for a firm or practice award in the past 15 years in around 1,500 separate instances of shortlisting, across 250 separate awards. That’s without taking into account the individual, in-house and bar categories.

All have managed to meet that criteria of “excellence” set back in 1995 when the awards were launched. That is something of which, whatever else may change, the legal profession has consistently proved it is not short.

For the last decade The Lawyer Awards have been sponsored by Travelers.

Most-shortlisted firms
Firm Shortlisted 1st 2nd 3rd Ratio 1st (%) Ratio 2nd (%) Ratio 3rd (%)
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 56 12 8 5 21.4 14.3 8.9
Clifford Chance 55 12 5 11 21.8 9.1 20.0
Herbert Smith Freehills 49 11 9 7 22.4 18.4 14.3
Linklaters 49 10 11 6 20.4 22.4 12.2
Allen & Overy 48 9 9 9 18.8 18.8 18.8
Hogan Lovells 46 7 7 3 15.2 15.2 6.5
Norton Rose Fulbright 42 7 9 5 16.7 21.4 11.9
Ashurst 35 7 7 2 20.0 20.0 5.7
DLA Piper 30 4 1 7 13.3 3.3 23.3
Pinsent Masons 27 3 5 3 11.1 18.5 11.1
Berwin Leighton Paisner 26 3 3 4 11.5 11.5 15.4
Wragge & Co 26 2 8 3 7.7 30.8 11.5
Baker & McKenzie 25 3 3 5 12.0 12.0 20.0
Slaughter and May 24 3 6 4 12.5 25.0 16.7
Shearman & Sterling 24 3 4 5 12.5 16.7 20.8
Eversheds 23 3 7 2 13.0 30.4 8.7
White & Case 22 6 3 6 27.3 13.6 27.3
King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin 19 8 0 2 42.1 0.0 10.5
Addleshaw Goddard 19 4 2 0 21.1 10.5 0.0
Simmons & Simmons 18 4 1 1 22.2 5.6 5.6
               
Note: Totals include all legacy firms’ results            
Source: The Lawyer