Litigation boutique Stewarts Law’s unusual model, combined with a series of bolt-ons, drove the firm’s impressive turnover and profit growth last year. Stewarts makes it into the top 100 with a revenue of £28.5m, helped by the acquisition of Masseys in 2010.
It is Stewarts’ profitability that really sets it apart. Last year its profit margin was an enviable 40.6 per cent, with an average profit per equity partner of £926,000. Equity ranged from £663,500 to £1.06m.
Stewarts’ 13 equity partners are paid more handsomely than most partners at much bigger firms. The firm’s 21 fixed-share partners, who are paid on a guaranteed basis, each received a share of £3.5m, averaging out at £168,000, although managing partner John Cahill says this is skewed by a couple of more highly paid fixed-share partners.
Keeping costs down has helped maintain the high profitability. The firm has a lawyer-to-paralegal ratio of almost 1:1, with another 41 non-fee-earning staff in support roles.
Cahill says the emphasis on litigation has also enabled Stewarts to pick up high-value work from City heavyweights following conflicts. A high proportion of cases are fought on a contingency or conditional fee arrangement basis, meaning a long lockup, but also means it can benefit from success fees.
Stewarts is funding its expansion through bank loans and last year an extra £50,000 per equity partner injected into the business. This brought each partner’s contribution to £250,000.