Salute the hard-working mid-tier

Oh, what a night. The Lawyer Awards, in association with Travelers, took place last week, with 1,400 of the great, good and groovy members of the legal profession packed into the Great Room at the Grosvenor. The spread of winners was remarkable, particularly in the in-house categories. Check out page 10 for the full listing; on the private practice side Nabarro, Burges Salmon, Wragges and Lawrence Graham didn’t manage to win but they all put in great entries, and special mention must go to Pinsent Masons, which was shortlisted all over the shop.

 Taylor Wessing carried off the big gong of Law Firm of the Year, with RPC in hot pursuit as runner-up. The strong performance of all these mid-sized firms is a timely reminder that, while some may be facing what we can only euphemistically term ‘management challenges’, they nevertheless have plenty of intellectual firepower. And I don’t mean the silver circle here – a term that seems to have morphed into denoting a firm that isn’t magic circle but has a good reputation, but which was actually coined by The Lawyer in 2004 to acknowledge the group of domestic transactional powerhouses with stellar profits and more often than not a private equity and high-end real estate heritage. In those days the silver circle was peopled by Ashurst, Macfarlanes, Travers Smith, SJ Berwin and BLP. BLP is having a bumpy ride; SJ Berwin is about to give up its independence for an Asia giant; and Ashurst was already huge 10 years ago and has since pulled off the Blakes merger. It leaves Macfarlanes and Travers Smith flying the flag for the silver circle model.

So this week’s feature is timely; we examine those mid-sized firms without the pukka client base of the silver circle but with strong roots in technology and media, and which have pulled off consistent success, not always easily: Taylor Wessing, RPC, Osborne Clarke, Bird & Bird and Olswang. They’ve diversified internationally, taken a hard look at their businesses and made tough decisions, including redundancies, this year. 

If the silver circle were born to the purple, the gold middles have had to work damned hard for their success. Nothing is comfortable any more, but their sheer graft and energy deserves a round of applause.