Top UK firms in partnership boom

The UK's leading law firms are appointing large numbers of new partners reflecting a surge in business not seen since the end of 1991 Gulf War.

One of the main factors driving the increase in partner numbers is the explosion of takeover activity in the City bringing in tens of millions of pounds in advisory fees.

Robert Martin, management consultancy partner at Coopers & Lybrand, said: “It looks as if the bottleneck of recent years has broken and that there is enough business to justify bringing in additional partners.”

Herbert Smith, which topped the 1995 bids league table by advising 28 stockmarket listed companies on mergers worth £23 billion, is appointing 17 new partners from 1 May, compared to 14 last year.

The appointments mean the total number of partners at the firm rises from 120 to 134, including those retiring or leaving.

Liz McDougall, head of business development at the practice, said: ” We are busier than ever before, particularly in corporate finance.”

Clifford Chance, the UK's largest law firm, is appointing 17 new partners, taking the total from 239 to 247. One commentator said it would have to bring in an extra million pounds in revenue for each new equity partnership. The firm's managing partner Geoffrey Howe said there is “definitely more confidence around with corporate activity strong and growth in areas such as capital markets and aircraft financing”.

Freshfields managing partner Alan Peck said: “Things have picked up in London and there is more business confidence throughout the UK. There are a hell of a lot of deals about.”

Observers suggest the high level of City action will continue into 1997 with media mergers expected in the second half of 1996 after the implementation of the Broadcasting Bill which relaxed takeover, restrictions.

Slaughter and May is appointing six new partners increasing the total from 98 to 101. Partner Melvyn Hughes said: “If people are of the right calibre, we appoint them.”

Firms are also more focused on the quality of lawyer-making partnership, according to management consultant David Temporal of Hodgart Temporal. “The criteria for entering partnership is now much tougher as firms are now much clearer about their strategic goals,” he said.

Clifford Chance's Howe said that while volumes were significantly better, “pricing is still very tough. There are no easy rides out there.”

He added: “A clearer picture will emerge with the publication of the The Lawyer/Coopers & Lybrand 1996 survey.”