Awards preview: niche firm of the year

On 22 June, 1400 people will crowd into the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane for the most eagerly-awaited event of the year. With only one week to go, The Lawyer brings you a sneak preview of the shortlisted individuals and teams


Clintons has long been one of London’s leading media and entertainment boutiques. Its client list in music is especially strong, with artists such as The Who, UB40, the Stereophonics and Muse. But Clintons is about more than just music. It also advises clients in sport, film, theatre, TV and publishing. Along with its stellar client list, the firm prides itself on its low staff turnover. No equity partner has left the firm (other than to retire) in the last 10 years and none has ever joined a competing practice. Financially Clintons also appears sound, with its £8m turnover up 10 per cent on last year and profits up an impressive 30 per cent.

Dickson Minto

Dickson Minto perennially punches above its weight. The tiny Anglo-Scottish private equity boutique was involved in a range of top-level buyouts last year, the jewel in the crown of which was BC Partner’s acquisition of Italy’s Yellow Pages, Seat Pagine Gialle. The firm advised a consortium of BC Partners, CVC and Permira on a deal in which the firm’s finance star Michael Barron is widely acknowledged to have played a blinder. And the firm will go into next year in good shape, having done a bit of housekeeping by shutting its white elephant Glasgow office and seriously considering opening its not inconsiderable accounts to the world by becoming a limited-liability partnership.

Gordons Solicitors

Until Wm Morrison retained its long-term adviser Gordons to act on the Safeway takeover, little was known of the firm outside Yorkshire. Since then, Gordons’ reputation as a no-nonsense commercial law firm has spread well beyond the county. But the firm’s year was not just about supermarkets. Gordons has made some high-profile lateral hires, including partners Peter Barton, David Smyllie and Rupert Nevin, all from DLA, private client partner Rachel Tunnicliffe from Addleshaw Goddard and litigation partner Matthew Howarth from Burges Salmon. It has also been on the acquisition rampage since the turn of the century, with mergers in 2000, 2002 and 2004, creating a firm with a combined turnover of £15m.

Heatons Solicitors

Stoke-on-Trent firm Heatons has gone from strength to strength in the past year after winning no fewer than three instructions from mainstay Allen & Overy client Baugur. Last month the giant Icelandic retailer instructed Heatons in relation to its £110m acquisition of UK jewellery retailer Goldsmiths. Prior to this the firm was brought in to act for Baugur on the £152m purchase of high street women’s clothing retailer Oasis and the acquisition of UK foods group Julian Graves. The instructions were a major coup for the nine-partner practice, which typically advises on deals valued at between £1m and £30m.

Fox Williams

Fox Williams has had another strong year, making three lateral hires as well as internal promotions to bring the partnership to 18. The firm’s longstanding reputation in employment law continues to grow. In acted for several parties in the Kamlesh Bahl discrimination case against the Law Society, which was due to be heard in the Court of Appeal in June. Fox Williams is also representing two former Equitable Life directors. The firm was recognised as being one of the UK’s best places to work in the annual list by The Times, a reputation bolstered by its recent ‘Investors in People’ award.

Maples Teesdale Solicitors

One of London’s oldest firms with a 200-year heritage, Maples Teesdale had a radical change of direction at the start of the 21st century. Four years on and the former small general practice is an eight-partner, highly focused commercial property boutique. Six of the partners, several of whom were previously at Norton Rose, are pure property, while the remaining two handle property litigation and property-focused corporate and commercial matters. The turnaround in strategy has seen Maples Teesdale handle a succession of high-value transactions for clients such as Isis Asset Management, Royal & SunAlliance Property Investments and new client Gort Securities.

Pemberton Greenish

Pemberton Greenish describes itself as “a niche practice by design”. The young firm, established in November 2000, is tailored to the needs of the London landed estates. It was formed by nine partners from Lee & Pembertons, the Knightsbridge firm known for its property and private client expertise. The firm now acts for, among others, the Cadogan Estate (Chelsea), the Day Estate (South Kensington) and the Ilchester Estate (Holland Park). In January 2004, the firm was appointed as solicitors to the Crown Estate on its Regent’s Park holdings. The firm also acts for individuals and companies, including Scottish Widows Fund & Life Assurance Society and Dorrington Investment.