Law Firm of the Year

2nd place: Lovells
3rd place: Denton Wilde Sapte
Shortlisted:Brobeck Hale & Dorr, Herbert Smith, Shadbolt & Co
The winner of the Law Firm of the Year Award, sponsored by the Bank of Ireland, is Macfarlanes.
Anyone who argues that the mid-size law firm is doomed should think again. Macfarlanes happily ignores any current theory on how to run a law firm: virtually no lateral hires, an independent international strategy that involves zero Continental expansion and a continued commitment to private client work. In theory, it should not have been this successful. The theory, in that case, must be wrong.
After the big five, Macfarlanes is consistently one of the most profitable firms in the City, not because of acting on the mega-deals, but because of its constant diet of top-quality private and public M&A work, where it has earned the respect of the City big-hitters. In a year where bigger was better, and where the magic circle forced the pace ever faster, Macfarlanes stayed the course. It advised Pernod Ricard on the £5.5bn acquisition with Diageo of the wines and spirits business of Seagram, and its private equity practice – which last year won Alchemy Partners as a client – had a bumper year.
Macfarlanes wins the award in recognition of its commitment to quality and to the maintenance of its own ethos. To sustain that level of success takes some achievement; this is the City partnership par excellence.
Second is Lovells, which consolidated its 1999 merger with German firm Boesebeck Droste and spent much of 2000 on the hunt in Europe. It added Dutch capability in merging with Ekelmans den Hollander and hired in Paris and Eastern Europe to bolster its European practice further. Lovells' concentration on bedding down the Continental network and its footholds in the US has made it the best-placed UK international firm outside the magic circle.
In third place is Denton Wilde Sapte, which managed to pull off one of the fastest and smoothest mergers in law firm history. The combination of corporate and financial muscle combined with a growing international presence has created one of the most complete firms outside the top 10.