Kiss from a Rose

Champagne corks were popped among partners at Norton Rose this week, as the firm announced a stunning 27 per cent rise in turnover during the last financial year. See story

On the basis of the financial results released by firms so far, Norton Rose has trounced its rivals, leaving Ashurst, Herbert Smith, Pinsent Masons and Simmons & Simmons in the shade.

However Norton Rose’s junior lawyers will have to settle for a can of economy-strength lager, after the firm revealed that trainee and newly-qualified salaries will be frozen at last year’s levels. See story.

Norton Rose is not the only outfit to announce bad news for associates this year – Herbert Smith has also frozen salaries – but it is the first not to disclose salary rates for associates further up the food chain.

Salaries for the three new associate pay grades of the firm’s new merit-based system, introduced in February, have been kept under wraps.

Quizzed on why, a Norton Rose spokesman refused to be drawn on a change in policy under which the firm has always disclosed salary details hitherto.

Apparently, it’s all about being “competitive”.

Paranoid, more like. Perhaps Norton Rose isn’t quite as confident as it makes out.

Lovells in need of a PEP up

As the legal profession waits with bated breath for the magic circle to release its 2007-08 financial figures, the chasing pack of City firms are desperate to show the strength of their performance over the past year.

So far Ashurst, Herbert Smith, Lovells, Norton Rose and Simmons & Simmons have announced their figures and, true to form, all are hailing strong performances across the board.

True, performance has been reasonably strong with all but Lovells and Simmons enjoying 20 per cent-plus turnover growth.

Lovells will be cheered that it’s gained some ground on its mediocre 2006-07 performance, but, as the firm closest to the magic circle in turnover terms, its PEP figure still leaves something to be desired. See story.

At £662,000 Lovells’ PEP is now well behind Herbies’ and Ashurst’s, both of which crashed through the £1m mark for the first time this year. With Simmons’ PEP on a par with Lovells, the silver circle firms are motoring away from their City rivals.

K&L stoops to conquer

There’s no stopping K&L Gates.

Less than a fortnight after it leaked the news of its talks with Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman, the acquisitive US firm has announced its latest bolt-on.

OK, the nine lawyers in Taiwan firm J&J Attorneys-at-Law might be a little easier to digest than the 175-lawyer Charlotte-based firm, or K&L’s other, more significant mergers in the past couple of years (including Texas-based Hughes & Luce in January this year, Preston Gates & Ellis in January 2007 and our own Nicholson Graham & Jones in 2005).

But size isn’t everything. The expansion of K&L’s resources in China is a sign of the firm’s continuing hunger and global ambition.

In The Lawyer Transatlantic Elite, published this Monday (12 May), we named K&L Gates chairman and driving force, Peter Kalis as one of the 10 individuals who will reshape the international legal market over the next five years.

Today’s deal illustrates why.See story.

Too little, too late

All is not well at Bevan Brittan.

First, it gets the jitters over partner departures, enforcing a clause in the partnership agreement which allows only three exits per year. See story.

And now comes the news of up to 40 layoffs, announced by the firm today.

You read that right: 40 layoffs. That’s one of the largest redundancy programmes by a top 100 firm, ever.

Bevan Brittan’s Bristol heartland will take the biggest hit, with 25 expected to be made redundant. No wonder chief executive Stuart Whitfield is casting around for ideas on how to boost profitability.

Trouble is, Bevan Brittan has already tried a quick fix on profitability. As The Lawyer revealed two weeks ago (6 May 2008), the firm’s average PEP was artificially lifted from £142,000 to £378,000 last year by a cute little property deal.

Now it’s retreating to its core business of healthcare and local government. Yet these are hardly the most profitable legal areas to be in, and areas where local rivals such as Beachcroft, for example, are already streets ahead. The fact is that Bevan Brittan’s profitability has declined for the last couple of years, even in the boom market.

Did nobody in the firm notice? A strategic rethink at this stage in the game is astonishingly late.

Redundancies abundant

There are redundancies, and there are redundancies.

The news today that Beachcroft is about to axe one partner and five assistants might, on the face of it, be seen as a response to the current market downturn. See story.

Except it isn’t. Beachcroft is one of the better-hedged firms in the UK at the moment, with half of its revenues coming from litigation and a good chunk from public sector work.

The six-lawyer group in exit talks was a bizarre international mini-firm, with lawyers qualified in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium.

It’s a pretty belated rethink of where Beachcroft is internationally – especially since this mysterious group only launched in er, 2006.

What should Beachcroft do now? Tidy up its messy network of European best friends for a start. We predict some cross-border schmoozing.