The Lawyer UK 200: Getting down to business

This year’s UK 200 shows how firms are battling a feeble economy with ruthless efficiency. A decade ago those words would most likely be employed to describe a 12-month period of booming revenues and profits across the UK’s largest firms, driven by debt-fuelled M&A and a buoyant legal market. That was certainly not the case in 2012/13

To purchase access to the full report visit or contact Daniela Badcock on +44 (0) 207 970 4582

Now they are more appropriately associated with yet another period of consolidation and fierce competition, severe price pressure from all angles and a growing number of firms going to the wall. That is the true story of the fortunes of the UK’s largest corporate and commercial law firms in 2012/13, a story that the myriad of data contained in the The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report 2013 in association with KPMG eloquently describes.

And yet, considering the prevailing market conditions, 2012/13 was no basket case. 

Total revenue across The Lawyer’s Top 50 rose by 5.2 per cent, to £15.91bn; across the top 100 the rise was 4.7 per cent, to £17.69bn; while across the top 200 (The Lawyer is the only publication to track the performance of the UK’s largest 200 firms by revenue) the rise was 4.4 per cent, to £19.045bn.

Higher powers

These are the headline statistics which reveal a market that, on the face of it, still looks to be in rude health while responding to unprecedented pressure. But the difference between last year’s revenue hike and those registered 10 or more years ago is not in the numbers themselves but in the level to which that growth has been powered by consolidation and market forces
beyond the power of individual firms.

Over the following 32 pages in this print edition of the UK 200 you will find a dizzying array of benchmarking metrics aimed at pinpointing the health or otherwise of the UK’s largest law firms. The Lawyer’s UK 200 is already the most comprehensive report on the UK legal landscape, but this year we have included more data than ever.

The headline data is available here in the free print edition, but that is just a taster. Last year for the first time The Lawyer decided to make the full UK 200 report only available behind a paywall in the form of a PDF. This year we have taken a major leap forward. The full data for both of these benchmarks can only be found online. In essence this year’s report is nothing less than a digital interactive tool aimed at allowing firms or other
users to benchmark themselves against their peers. 

Critically, for the first time, users will be able to tailor content how they want, producing immediate digital charts revealing just where they are compared with their peers.

Go the extra metric mile

This print edition contains many – but by no means all – of the metrics with which a firm or a rival can measure performance. It also includes several of the 200 independent editorial commentaries on all the firms included in this year’s edition, snapshots of each firm that include specific data on revenue, profit, financial management, debt and real estate costs as well as an overview of core practices and strategies. 

This year we have expanded the level of editorial on each of the UK’s top 20 firms, devoting a full page to each. In today’s print edition you can find independent analyses of Allen & Overy (A&O) and DWF, alongside shorter analyses on the likes of Field Fisher Waterhouse and Addleshaw Goddard from the top 100, as well as Boodle Hatfield, Withy King and Boyes Turner from the second 100. For the full 200 commentaries you will need to access the full online report.

Financial times

In particular, this year we have focused more than ever on financial management information such as total lockup and its constituent parts, work-in-progress (WIP) and debtor days. We have also refined our questions relating to property costs and included more data on this hefty overhead, focusing both on UK and, critically, London costs.

In a market that is changing and consolidating as rapidly as the UK’s, it is indispensable intelligence.

If the lockup and property data is part of the under-the-skin element of the UK 200, the front end is turnover and profits. These are the traditional benchmarks of a firm’s success. And over the past year or two they have been characterised by the prevalence of mergers throughout the UK, a trend that has had a significant impact on the table.

As we reported in our provisional Top 100 in August, while new business models such as ABSs and firms with capital injections are starting to make their presence felt, the most obvious trend continues to be the impact consolidation is having on the hierarchy.

DWF alone swallowed three firms in 2012/13, snapping up Scotland’s Biggart Baillie, Fishburns and the remnants of Cobbetts in a pre-pack. The impact on its ranking is obvious, with DWF moving 14 places up the revenue table to joint 20th with DAC Beachcroft, with a revenue of £188.2m.

Other major mergers last year included those between Shakespeares and Leicester-based Harvey Ingram (the larger firm just missed out on a berth in the top 50 this year but shot up 23 places to 61 with a revenue of £45.4m); Pinsent Masons and McGrigors; TLT and Anderson Fyfe; and yet another north of the border deal in the form of Burness and Paull & Williamsons’ tie-up.

The biggest deal of the year was the October 2012 link-up between Herbert Smith and Freehills. The firm provided figures for the seven months since that deal so its revenue in our table is an estimate based on combining legacy figures with those provided. Despite this deal, the newly minted Herbert Smith Freehills remains in ninth position.

There was movement among the UK’s big four firms – Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and A&O – notably with Freshfields moving up to third behind Clifford Chance and DLA Piper, but as a group they were effectively flat both on revenue and profitability in 2012/13. Total revenue for these four last year was £4.876bn, just 0.92 per cent up on 2011/12. Average revenue among the group was £1.219bn, up by 0.92 per cent, while total net profit was £1.937bn, just 0.005 per cent up.

In contrast, the total net profit across the top 100 was £5.373bn, a 2.7 per cent increase matched by a similar rise in profit across the UK top 50 to £4.96bn. By any measure, in a time of austerity this is a remarkable performance.

To purchase access to the full report visit contact Daniela Badcock on +44 (0) 207 970 4582

The new-look UK 200

New for 2013, the full UK 200 report is available as an interactive, digital benchmarking tool. For the first time this will allow you to manipulate each data set against the metrics of your choice. The results can be referred to throughout the year to benchmark any firm’s performance against its peers and closest rivals. Find it at: