Move On Up: DWF

Even without the Cobbetts tie-up, DWF has been on a growth spurt. Will it last?

North West firm DWF has had one of the most rapid growth trajectories of any of the UK’s top 100 firms in recent years, adding a net total of 64 partners and directors in three years through promotions and laterals – and that is without counting growth during the current financial year. The firm is due to merge with Cobbetts in May, accelerating growth still further.

DWF has tended to promote as many solicitors as it hires, which is good news for its ranks of associates. One of the reasons for lateral hiring has been to open new offices, including most recently in Birmingham through the arrival of Shoosmiths partner Joanne Davis. The firm is also expanding its Newcastle office, hiring Dickinson Dees partner John Flynn in May 2011, then merging with local firm Crutes on 1 January.

Roots to success

By and large, DWF has stuck to its roots in its expansion efforts, focusing on growing its Manchester office and its insurance practice. Leeds and London have had more lateral hires than promotions, although both have seen promotions.

Of the three years for which figures were available most promotions came in 2009-10, when DWF made up 22 associates to partner or director. The firm did not provide a breakdown for the roles. Over half of these were in Manchester and 50 per cent were in the insurance team, while the real estate team benefitted with six new partners and directors.

The bumper promotions round was bracketed by slightly smaller ones. DWF made up seven in 2008-09 and 12 in 2009-10. Indeed, 2009-10 was a quieter year on the recruitment front than the preceding or following years. DWF hired eight partners in 2006-07, again mostly in Manchester and insurance.

In 2007-08 the firm brought in 17 lateral hires. Leeds was the major recipient of the arrivals, with eight hires, while a further seven partners were recruited for Manchester. Laterals were spread evenly across practice areas. Leeds gained another eight partners the following year, with seven recruited for the London office and two for Manchester.

The 2009-10 financial year had just 10 laterals, with Leeds and London again benefitting, with five and three hires each. But the firm returned its attention to Manchester in 2010-11, picking up 11 partners for the city and a further nine in London and Leeds.

With so many entering the DWF partnership, some losses were ­inevitable. However, the firm has succeeded in holding on to the ­majority of those it has hired or ­promoted, adding 95 partners and ­directors ­between 2008 and 2011, and losing 24.

Given the size of DWF’s insurance department it is perhaps unsurprising that this team lost the most partners, with a quarter of those leaving. Half of the departures came from Manchester, while Leeds lost two partners in three years, Liverpool six and Preston four.

DWF did not provide a gender breakdown for promotions or hires. Around a quarter of the firm’s partners are female, but, according to documents filed with Companies House, around a third of the partners who also became LLP members since 2008 have been women.

Lower down the ranks DWF prides itself on looking after its associates and trainees. Associates are paid in clear bands from newly-qualified to five years’ post-qualification, starting with a salary of £36,699 and rising gradually for four years, when the salary is £42,387. At five years and ­beyond the salary rises to £58,487.

DWF has kept on all trainees for two years running, showing that its growth strategy is not just at the top.

HR strategy is dealt with in the firm’s three-year plan, which is ­reviewed annually. No changes were made to this last year.

Promotionsand senior hires

John Flynn, corporate partner

Flynn joined DWF from North East firm Dickinson Dees in May last year

Joanne Davis, corporate partner

Davis was brought on board from Shoosmiths to boost DWF’s Birmingham office

Graham Ball, head of private client

Ball was hired from Arbuthnot Latham Private Bank in October 2010