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Total fee income at the top 100 law firms has smashed through the u5bn barrier for the first time, The Lawyer can reveal.
The Lawyer 100 survey, a comprehensive analysis of law firms' gross fees and partner profits, today shows the extraordinary success of the UK's leading legal practices.
Gross fees for the top 100 firms have risen by 16 per cent from u4.35bn in 1997 to 1998 to u5.03bn over the past 12 months. The total earnings amount to more than 2 per cent of UK gross domestic product.
Ian Terry, managing partner of Freshfields, says: "Five billion pounds is a staggering figure. It reflects that the last couple of years have seen an unprecedented amount of commercial activity.
"The need for lawyers has never been stronger. We have been busy across the board from our litigators to our corporate practice. There is so much globalisation of industry in so many different countries that it generates huge amounts of work for lawyers."
Tony Williams, managing partner at Clifford Chance, says: "I think the strength of UK legal firms' expertise has been increasing over the years. This figure is testament to that. We have become very significant contributors to the British economy."
The Lawyer 100 survey shows the top five Magic Circle firms alone enjoy gross fees of u1.5bn - half the amount the bottom 80 firms earn between them.
Profits per partner also show a huge disparity between the top 20 firms and the rest. Top 20 partners this year can expect to earn an average u500,000, while the rest average u190,000 per partner. Last year the figures were u370,000 and u186,000.
Slaughter and May increased its income by 39 per cent - the largest rise of any of the top five. Its partners earn u728,000 - 20 per cent more than the second highest paid partners at Clifford Chance.
Allen & Overy's income rose 14 per cent, but its profits per partner fell from u616,000 to u595,000.