Number crunching: Watson Farley & Williams

Watson Farley & Williams narrowly missed the £100m turnover barrier for the 2011/12 financial year, posting a 12 per cent revenue hike to £99.8m

Watson Farley’s healthy rise came off the back of an impressive expansion campaign, giving the firm 14 offices spanning Europe, Asia and the US. This includes a joint venture in Singapore that was established in October 2011, although the firm has had an office in the country since 1998.

The expansion has increased the number of staff globally to 650, with 339 fee-earners, 327 qualified lawyers and 110 partners, according to the firm’s latest figures.

In spite of the growth, Thomson Reuters data shows Watson Farley acted on only 15 M&A deals between 2008 and 2012. However, the data does not include some of the firm’s key deals, such as advising a joint venture between Teekay LNG Partners and Marubeni Corporation in 2011 on its successful bid to acquire a fleet from Danish shipping group AP Moller-Maersk for $1.4bn (£880m).

What’s more, other practice areas, such as asset finance, which the data does not include, are much stronger suits for the firm. This was underlined when it was revealed in The Lawyer UK 200 2012 that Watson Farley’s finance practice group contributed 53 per cent of the firm’s overall global turnover in 2011/12. By contrast, the corporate practice contributed only 26 per cent of fee income.

Finance has also been a key focus of the firm’s recent hiring strategy, which saw it bring in 15 lateral hires in 2011/12 alone. These included poaching asset finance duo Nicola Davies and Samantha Yardley from Berwin Leighton Paisner to boost the firm’s London finance practice.

These and other significant appointments in London, such as bringing in SNR Denton’s Gareth Phillips to launch a dedicated City planning practice, have shown that, in spite of the firm’s appetite for expansion, it is still set on boosting its presence in the UK’s financial heartland.

According to the most recently available LLP filings on Perfect Information, the firm’s London office alone posted a turnover of £41.3m in 2010/11, up from £38.2m in 2009/10 and £37.6m in 2008/09. At the same time, the office’s profit rose from £17.8m in 2008-09 to £19.4m in 2010/11.

Watson Farley was also one of the few firms brave enough to open an office in Madrid since the economic crisis. It was a gamble that seems to have paid off: since 2009 the firm has achieved an impressive 62 per cent rise in turnover, posting a revenue of £680,000 in 2009/10 which increased to £1.78m in 2010/11.

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Expansion

With hirings and office openings inevitably come costs. In 2011/12 the firm’s total borrowings of £9.7m included lease financing for office fit-outs. Lawyer headcount shot up from 279 to 327 and, in spite of the turnover hike, revenue per lawyer (RPL) fell by 5 per cent to £302,000. The most recent office launch was in January 2013 in Frankfurt, making it the firm’s third German outpost. However, managing partner Michael Greville told The Lawyer last year that there were no plans for further expansion or recruitment, so RPL may have a chance to recover for 2013 after all.

2012 deals

  1. Advised France’s Sofiproteol on its acquisition of Dietetique Elevage en Nutrition Animale (DIENA).
  2. Advised France’s Gardner-Airia Holdings on its acquisition of the entire share capital of Airia SAS.
  3. Advised UK-based Chemring Marine as it was acquired by US-based Drew Marine.
  4. Advised Indigo Fruit as it was acquired by Ireland’s Total Produce.
  5. Advised Germany’s Invicto as it acquired an undisclosed majority interest in GAB Consulting GmbH, in a leveraged buyout transaction

Source: Thomson Reuters