Fieldfisher is a large firm, sitting on the fringes of the UK top 20. It has many international offices, mostly in Europe, and outposts in Birmingham and Manchester though its centre of gravity is still very much London. It cites its main areas of expertise as technology, financial services, energy and natural resources and life sciences, but its practice mix remains surprisingly broad, ranging from mid-market corporate and real estate work, to personal injury and clin neg, to private client
Fieldfisher is a large firm, sitting on the fringes of the UK top 20. It has many international offices, mostly in Europe, and outposts in Birmingham and Manchester though its centre of gravity is still very much London. It cites its main areas of expertise as technology, financial services, energy and natural resources and life sciences, but its practice mix remains surprisingly broad, ranging from mid-market corporate and real estate work, to personal injury and clin neg, to private client matters for Russian oligarchs, to media and TV. This ‘bit of everything’ philosophy has not held it back, with plenty of recent growth and high partner profits, especially for its star performers.
The history of the firm is not without its share of drama. Back in the mid-2000s, Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) was a pleasant if unspectacular mid-market London firm, performing reasonably well under the stewardship of managing partner Moira Gilmour, growing steadily and embracing European expansion.
However, behind the scenes an all-out war between various partners was taking place. One was the discrimination claim filed by trademarks head John Olsen in 2008, primarily against IP/IT head Mark Abell and IP dispute resolution chief Nick Rose.
In it, Olsen documented Abell’s influence on the firm via eight management positions, alleging that the IP/IT head was more powerful than then-managing partner Moira Gilmour. He also cited Abell and Rose’s ructions in the partnership contest in the mid-1990s when the pair had such a battle with commercial litigation head Peter Stewart over management positions that all three were banned from running for managing partner.
Even so, Abell remained the most influential person in the firm for a number of years after running the successful IP team. He was the sole partner at the top of the lockstep and played an undeniable role in the direction of FFW, particularly during the Gilmour regime.
Abell was eventually put in charge of building the firm’s international platform. It was an ambition he had a lot of faith in and it led him to stand down from the management committee in 2011 to focus on his plans. He was replaced by technology head Michael Chissick, who had played mediator between the warring factions but who had lost out to regulatory partner Lohn in the 2011 managing partner elections.
FFW then embarked on not one but two merger discussions with very different firms, speaking to both Lawrence Graham and Osborne Clarke in 2012. Although Lohn had driven the discussions, he took extended leave over the summer just as talks were heating up so the responsibility landed on Chissick’s shoulders to lead the discussions in his first real test as managing partner, albeit an interim one.
Neither set of talks was successful: FFW’s rivals had read of and heard about its political intrigues and decided they could do better alone.
Abell left at the start of 2013 in acrimonious circumstances; however, his departure lifted a cloud from the firm and allowed it to move on. Chissick was made managing partner full-time, the firm rebranded to Fieldfisher and relocated from its grubby offices in Vine Street to new ones by the river.
Chissick also put a renewed focus on the Fieldfisher’s areas of interest, setting it on a new path that distanced it from Abell’s highly profitable and but culturally divisive franchising group. When he took over, Chissick made it clear he had no plans to replace the former partner’s team and said he was more keen on narrowing the firm’s sector focus to several key groups, including retail and life sciences. Since then he has gone further, saying Fieldfisher is prioritising investment in just three areas – tech, finance and energy.
In 2014 Fieldfisher acquired Manchester boutique Heatons, before trying to play catch-up internationally. It had broken away from its European alliance firms in 2007, launching in Brussels, Hamburg and Paris, but results had been mixed. Since 2012, however, office openings have come thick and fast, in the USA, China, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Extending the top of the equity ladder was a decision taken by Chissick in 2015, as Fieldfisher realised a number of its star players – Guy Usher, Rob Shooter and Dominic Gurney-Champion – might get the urge to move to a firm with larger pay packets. The decision has paid off: few partners have left the firm since 2013.
|Appointed||Managing partner||Senior partner|
|2011||Matthew Lohn||(Role in abeyance)|
What is the trainee salary at Fieldfisher?
1st year trainee: £39,500
2nd year trainee: £42,500
What is the NQ salary at Fieldfisher?
NQ solicitor: £67,500