The LLPs lay out the state of the market in black and white. It’s not always pretty reading
When US firm K&L Gates posted its financial results last week it laid itself bare. Firm chairman Peter Kalis decided transparency was the order of the day in the wake of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s collapse. Consequently, the firm published financial data in line with SEC requirements – a first for a US law firm.
The UK legal market has seen its own collapse of late, with the demise of Manchester firm Cobbetts, rescued by DWF in a pre-pack deal. News of Cobbetts’ struggle was preceded by cost-cuts at the likes of Allen & Overy, DLA Piper and Eversheds.
So what better time to take a snapshot look at UK firms’ 2011/12 LLP accounts, revealing the all-important data informing management decisions? If it’s clues to the health of the market you’re after, look no further.
Turnover at Addleshaw Goddard was £169.5m in 2011/12, up from £161.9m in 2010/11. As with a number of firms in the top 50 – Eversheds, for one – this was Addleshaws’ first top-line increase in a few years. Turnover peaked for the firm in 2007/08 at £196.8m.
But LLP accounts show the real growth was on the bottom line. Profit before tax rose by more than 28 per cent, from £44.1m to £56.6m, while net profit was up from £34.4m to £44.9m.
The firm’s highest paid partner took home £592,789 in 2011/12. This figure was up by nearly 27 per cent on the previous year’s top payout of £467,580.
But – also like Eversheds – Addleshaws did not rest on its laurels at the prospect of rebounding figures. The firm axed 24 fee-earners in London, Leeds and Manchester in August 2012. Managing partner Paul Devitt said the cuts were made to “rebalance” the firm’s fee-earner numbers. The previous year the firm cut support staff numbers.
Overall average fee-earner numbers rose at Addleshaws during 2011/12, from 597 to 618. Support staff numbers dropped from 420 to 398, though. As a result the firm’s wage bill dropped from £56.6m to £54.7m. The average number of partners also dropped, from 157 to 152.
Similarly, the firm paid down £12m from a £25m revolving credit facility which it entered into in January 2011. Buildings leases cost the firm £14.2m, the same as in 2010/11.
Allen & Overy
Turnover at Allen & Overy (A&O) was £1.18bn in 2011/12, up from £1.12bn in 2010/11. Over the same period, profit for the financial year available for division among partners was £344.7m, up from £298m.
Last year A&O had £10m in unused general bank facilities and £150m in unused committed bank loan facilities. The latter figure was up from £130m on 2011. A spokesman said at the time: “It’s just a question of replacing facilities on a rolling basis – the firm has simply created more new facilities than have expired.”
Partners’ capital within A&O increased by £5m, from £140m in 2010/11 to £145m in 2011/12. This was due to more partners joining and existing partners moving up the equity ladder. The number of equity partners rose by 7 per cent, from 398 to 427. In total, partner numbers rose by 5 per cent from 487 to 512, while the number of non-equity partners dropped from 89 to 85. The highest-paid partner took home £1.6m, effectively the same as in 2010/11, while average profit per equity partner was also flat at £1.1m.
The number of lawyers rose, from 2,152 to 2,258, as did the number of support staff, from 2,137 to 2,307 between 2010/11 and 2011/12. Staff costs increased from £417m to £446.8m. The rise in headcount, combined with A&O’s continued international expansion, led to a 6 per cent rise in operating costs in 2011/12. The accounts also mention A&O’s Belfast launch as a drain on profit.
Ashurst’s cash at the bank and in hand dropped by 40 per cent, from £35.2m to £21.2m, between 2010/11 and 2011/12, while loans due within one year increased by 39 per cent, from £46,000 to £64,000.
However, finance leases due within one year dropped by 59 per cent, from £228,000 to £93,000, and loans due after more than a year fell by 57 per cent, from £194,000 to £84,000. At the same time finance leases due after more than a year fell by 60 per cent, from £279,000 to £112,000.
In an expansive year, capital expenditure rose by 151 per cent, from £1.9m to £4.9m. Members’ interests in the firm soared from £329,000 on 1 May 2011 to £16.8m on 30 April 2012, while drawings and distributions rose by 18 per cent from £82.5m to £97.5m.
Among the minutiae revealed in the firm’s 2011/12 LLP accounts was £555,000 of motor vehicles disposed of by the firm during the year – or £517,000, taking into account currency values and the addition of £35,000 worth of cars. In 2010/11 it got rid of a similar amount, but brought in another £421,000, meaning a drop in the value of the cars of £116,000.
Top of equity was £1.053m, a tiny increase on 2010/11’s £1.052m. Fees to auditors, mostly Deloitte, rose by 59 per cent, from £348,000 to £555,000, thanks mainly to the Blake Dawson tie-up. Non-audit fees saw a particularly large jump, rising by 99 per cent, from £214,000 in 2010/11 to £425,000 in 2011/12.
Berwin Leighton Paisner
Berwin Leighton Paisner’s (BLP) LLP accounts show that while the top line improved by 7.6 per cent, from £228.4m to £245.9m, costs rose by 13.9 per cent, from £144.8m to £165m. Staff costs alone rose from £96.8m to £108.5m.
According to the firm the increase in costs came on the back of heavy investment year in terms of new offices and partners. In 2011/12 the firm opened offices in Germany and Hong Kong and hired about 30 new partners. The BLP group spent £12.9m on leases in 2011/12, up from £11m.
Big lateral hires included Linklaters’ former global head of corporate David Barnes, and former Allen & Overy board member Alan Paul, who both joined on salaries of around £800,000 each.
The average number of partners at BLP was 190 in 2011/12, up from 176 the previous year. The highest paid partner took home £1.6m in the financial year just gone, the same as the year before. Average fee-earner numbers also rose, from 580 to 655 in 2011/12, and support staff numbers increased from 578 to 671.
As a result, operating profit was down from £84.2m to £81m, while profit for the year available for division among members was £78.6m, down from £82.6m. Cash at the bank and in hand fell from £3.9m to £2.1m, while the firm finished the year with net debt of £14.8m. In 2010/11 the firm ended the year with just £168,000 of net debt.
Clifford Chance’s accounts show a £19m payout to the 16 members of its management committee. The figure was 10 per cent up on £17.3m in 2010/11. The firm operates a pure lockstep, so any such hike will be down to members moving up the ladder, plateau partners being added or employees getting pay rises. By contrast, average profit per equity partner rose by 7 per cent.
The filing revealed that the firm’s defined-benefit pension scheme was closed to future accrual from 30 April 2011, after being closed to new members in 2005. The firm’s defined-benefit pension deficit rose by 12 per cent, from £99.9m to £111.8m, after increasing every year since 2008, when it stood at £45.2m.
The firm reached an agreement with its pension trustees during 2010/11 to pay off the deficit through top-up payments over the next seven years or so.
Geographical revenue breakdown shows the firm’s income in the Americas rose by 3 per cent from £139.6m to £144m, Asia Pacific rose by 28 per cent from £145m to £185.1m, Continental Europe rose by 5 per cent from £467.3m to £492m, Middle East rose by 6 per cent from £36.8m to £38.9m and the UK jumped by 3 per cent from £430.4m to £442.9m. Overall turnover rose by 7 per cent, from £1.219bn to £1.303bn.
Cash at the bank and in hand rose by 80 per cent, from £66.8m to £120.4m. The firm also paid off a £2.2m overdraft.
CMS Cameron McKenna
CMS Cameron McKenna’s 2011/12 LLP accounts, filed shortly before the firm announced that 40 jobs were at risk, shows a drop in the firm’s debt levels, with overdrafts and loans due shrinking from more than £17m to £5m.
The firm has £35m of uncommitted overdraft facilities renewable annually and a bank loan of £2.1m repayable within one year. Cash in hand rose from £5m on 1 May 2011 to £13.3m on 30 April 2012. Partners put an extra £7.7m into the business in 2011/12, compared with just £800,000 in 2010/11.
UK turnover showed a 1 per cent rise, to £227.6m from £225.1m the previous year. In the same period the firm increased the number of fee-earners by 74 – from 830 to 904 – while reducing the number of support staff from 573 to 475.
Changes in staff levels resulted in a reduction of costs, down from £76.6m in 2010/11 to £72.7m.
The average number of partners also fell during 2011/12, from 117 to 105.
The firm’s highest remunerated partner during the financial year took home £1.146m, including £546,000 as an early retirement provision. The overall remuneration figure was 1 per cent up on the £1.136m in 2010/11, that figure including £640,000 as an early retirement provision.
The firm closed its defined-benefit pension scheme to future accrual on 1 April 2011. It had been closed to new entrants since 1997. Its liability for this is £2.4m, up on the £1.4m in 2010/11.
The 2011 merger of Beachcroft and Davies Arnold Cooper (DAC) to form DAC Beachcroft has left the combined firm in a position that needs close inspection.
The first accounts filed since the tie-up show a revenue rise of 22 per cent to £163.5m, the comparison being with legacy Beachcroft’s 2010/11 £134m turnover. The combined firm said the addition of DAC added £21m, with the remaining £8.5m representing organic growth.
The firm’s cash position worsened over the year, with net debt up from £10m to £34m, £29m of which is bank loans payable within a year. Most of the rise was down to client debtors it said, with the firm also pledging to tackle work-in-progress. Client debtors rose from £38.9m to £71.2m and bank overdrafts increased from £5.1m to £29.5m.
The accounts also show that following the merger process members put in £7.8m of capital and a further £8m of net assets was acquired. But DAC members were also repaid £8m in capital.
Profit shared out to partners fell from £25.4m to £21.9m because of costs associated with the merger, the firm says.
Staff costs rose from £72.2m to £85.9m with the number of fee-earners rising from 906 to 1,301, although support staff numbers remained pretty flat at 541 for 2011/12 compared with 535.
Senior partner Simon Hodson notes the firm’s “profitable year-on-year growth” in spite of the debt increase.
The Lawyer’s decision last year to assess firms’ global revenues regardless of how they share profit across offices placed DLA Piper at the top of the UK 200 in 2011/12, with a turnover of £1.4bn. However, the firm’s financial-year international LLP only covers offices outside the US.
Here, turnover was £788.1m, up from £619.9m in 2010/11. The LLP filings show that Asia Pacific gave the firm the biggest boost, with revenue up from £61m to £202m. This hike was down to the firm merging fully with its Australia arm DLA Phillips Fox. Fee income in Europe was also up, from £253m to £279m, as was revenue in the Middle East, from £14.9m to £18.8m. UK turnover fell from £290m to £287m.
Net debt at the firm, as at 30 April 2012, was £47.5m, up from from £36.3m at the same date in 2011. The LLP also received a £28.14m cash injection from partners in 2011/12, after it switched to an all-equity partner model. The firm had £51.3m cash at the bank and in hand on 30 April 2012, up from £35m.
DLA Piper had on average 5,056 staff in 2011/12, up from 4,141 in 2010/11. Fee-earner, trainee and support staff numbers all rose. As a result, staff costs were £273.75m in 2011/12, up from £208.29m. Land and buildings cost £53.36m in 2011/12, up from £40.94m.
DLA Piper International’s highest paid partner – understood to be Nigel Knowles – received £1.748m in 2011/12, a small rise on 2010/11’s £1.711m.
Eversheds’ LLP showed a top line growth for the first time in three years, but the real story was the continued effort to strip away excess costs.
Turnover was £366m in 2011/12, up from £354.5m in 2010/11. Profit before members’ remuneration and profit shares was £113.6m, up from £109.8m. Eversheds’ highest paid partner received £1.159m, up from £967,000, while average profit per equity partner in the most recent financial year was £632,000. Average partner pay was £388,000.
Staff costs rose slightly, from £146.6m to £151.5m, even though the average number of staff fell from 2,850 to 2,761, but the spend on land and buildings, at £24.1m, was broadly the same.
Bank loans and overdrafts fell from £20m to £639,000 in 2011/12. Eversheds paid down its debt using cash reserves, with cash at the bank and in hand falling from £20.4m to £4.8m.
The world beyond Europe gave Eversheds the biggest proportional fee-income increase in 2011/12 by a long way, rising by 49.5 per cent, from £12.57m to £18.79m, while UK turnover rose by less than 2 per cent, from £321.7m to £327.7m.
Field Fisher Waterhouse
Field Fisher Waterhouse’s (FFW) debt level is small compared with many rivals’, but net debt rose from £727,000 in 2010/11 to £3.3m in 2011/12. It had also drawn £4.2m out of a £12m overdraft facility. Interest on bank loans and the overdraft rose by 71.5 per cent, from £95,000 to £163,000.
Drawings and distributions at £35.3m were higher than pre-tax profit of £33.1m, a 4 per cent drop on £34.3m in 2010/11, but the firm says this is a result of paying historic balances to partners.
It cut staff costs from £37.4m to £35.7m, while the highest-earning partner’s profit share dropped by 20 per cent, from £680,464 to £544,232, roughly in line with the drop in profit per equity partner.
Work-in-progress estimates meant the firm’s audited turnover for 2011/12 was £99.1m, up slightly on the £97.5m announced a few months earlier. The final increase was 4 per cent.
Fixed-share partner numbers rose from 73 to 93, due to the transfer of salaried partners to fixed-share when FFW scrapped its salaried ranks in 2012, and the acquisition of the German operations by the UK LLP.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
The business review in Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s 2011/12 LLP accounts describes the firm’s performance as “satisfactory, given […] market conditions”.
Essentially, the firm’s top line has been near-flat since 2008/09, when it fell by 11 per cent. But between 2010/11 and 2011/12 staff costs rose by 10.2 per cent, from £480.4m to £529.6m. As a result profit was down by nearly 5 per cent, from £366.6m to £349m.
The costs hike follows a rise in staff numbers. In 2011/12 the average number was 4,476, up from 4,409. Fee-earner numbers increased by 54 to 2,459, while support staff numbers increased by 13 to 2,017. The average number of partners was down slightly, from 355 to 350. The highest-paid partner pocketed £2.9m, up on the previous year’s £2.5m.
Costs were also hit by a rate change that increased annuity obligations to former partners from £830.8m to £929.7m. Freshfields’ net funds took a hit of £54m, dropping from £89m to £35.5m.
A spokesman says of the drop in net cash: “Cash balances have reduced as a result of investment in capital assets, including refurbishment of the London office and technology. The firm prefers to finance such investments from its own resources and remains without borrowing at the year-end.”
Irwin Mitchell’s 2011/12 LLP accounts reflect a change in corporate and reward structures, showing a £9.4m uplift in accrued income and a £14.3m basic profit share distributed to members.
The highest earner took home £19.2m, up on £5.8m in 2010/11. This went to Jersey-registered holding company IMCO Holdings, to which the controlling stake in the firm previously held by Irwin Mitchell Holdings was transferred to benefit from the more flexible capital structures.
The 2010/11 figure for the highest earner related to Irwin Mitchell Holdings, which took its stake in the LLP at the beginning of that financial year. The cashflow figures show its net debt at the end of 2011/12 was up to £13.7m from £1.1m, with bank loans and overdrafts up from £4.1m to £15.2m.
CEO John Pickering says he is “comfortable” with the borrowing, given the firm’s size. He says the debt level reflects a “significant amount of investment”.
Staff costs went up by £5m to £75m for 2011/12, with the number of fee-earners increasing from 1,253 to 1,273. Partner numbers went up from 57 to 63, while support staff headcount decreased from 870 to 834. Staff salary costs rose from £62.1m to £66.7m.
Turnover jumped to £187m, up from £184.1m in 2010/11.
In total, £305,338 was introduced into the firm as capital, down on the £2.01m figure in 2010/11.
Kennedys broke through the £100m turnover barrier in 2011/12 for the first time. Less its share of a joint venture, turnover was £103.9m, up 11 per cent from £93.6m. Of that, £78.3m came from the UK, £6.4m from Europe and £19.2m from elsewhere.
Because the average number of staff at Kennedys rose from 709 in 2010/11 to 835 in 2011/12, the profit hike was not commensurate with the top line. Staff costs increased by nearly 20 per cent, from £38.7m to £45.1m and as a result profit for the year rose by only 5 per cent, from £17.9m to £18.8m.
Partner numbers also rose on average in 2011/12, from 145 to 158. That number comprised four new equity partners – taking the total equity partner headcount to 53 – and nine partial equity partners.
The amount Kennedys paid for its leases in 2011/12 was effectively flat, at £4.9m. But the accounts show net debt at the firm on 30 April 2012 was £18.4m, up from £9.5m at the same time in 2011. Similarly, bank loans and overdrafts at the firm increased from £5.8m to £15.7m between 2010/11 and 2011/12.
Kennedys senior partner Nick Thomas says the increase in debt is due to continuing IT expenditure and the decision to take out a loan to pay the firm’s January tax bill. He adds that tax loans are increasingly common practice among partnerships and protect firms from having to fund lump sum payments, which would be somewhere around the £6m mark for Kennedys.
Lawrence Graham’s accounts show that property costs the firm £5.1m a year. Turnover for 2011/12 fell from £58m to £56m and operating profit before any payment to partners slumped by 31 per cent, from £20.7m in 2010/11 to £14.2m in 2011/12.
The profit figure was dwarfed by drawings, as members took out £21m in 2011/12. The firm agreed £4.5m in new loans during 2011/12, having repaid £4.1m the previous year. Transactions with partners saw £21.2m paid out, up from £17.7m in 2010/11. This meant that at the year-end partners’ interests including loans and other debts due was reduced to £19.1m, down from £27.3m.
On 30 April 2012, partners’ capital was £11.3m, with the firm saying it continues to use what it believes is an “appropriate mix of both debt and partners’ funds” to provide working capital for the business. Its net debt as of 30 April 2012 was £7.5m, up from £4.2m the previous year. Total bank loans stood at £9.3m, up from £5.5m.
The filing explains the fall in profitability as principally the result of increased property costs in London and the firm occupying more space than it needed. It also includes a statement that steps are being taken to let surplus space in a bid to address this issue.
Headcount was stable at an average of 186 lawyers and 136 support staff in 2011/12, compared with 185 and 140 respectively in 2010/11.
Linklaters’ turnover in 2011/12 was £1.204bn, a 6 per cent increase on the £1.197m in 2010/11. Within this, Americas revenue was down by 2 per cent from £88.5m to £87.1m, Asia revenue was up by 4 per cent from £135.2m to £141.2m and UK and Middle East turnover rose by 1 per cent from £522.6m to £526.4m. Continental Europe revenue dropped marginally from £451.1m to £449.6m.
Staff costs rose by 4 per cent from £556.8m to £578.8m, while salary costs increased by 3 per cent, from £485.4m to £500.5m. The highest earner took home £2.5m – 14 per cent up on £2.2m in 2010/11.
The firm had 2 per cent fewer partners on average across the year, at 310, compared with 315
in 2010/11. Drawings and distributions were £343.7m, 2 per cent up on £338.4m, while capital introduced was up from £10m in 2010/11 to £17.7m in 2011/12.
The accounts also reveal details of the firm’s capital structure and partner remuneration system. Partners subscribe capital interest-free, putting in an amount per equity point determined by the international board. This can only exceed £20,000 per point if a majority of partners approve the move. It aims to keep capital levels at a minimum of £40m.
Partners typically join the equity on 7-10 points, but a lower figure can be arranged. The points then increase by 1.5 a year to a maximum of 25.
Nabarro’s 2011/12 LLP accounts show fee income of £112.5m, up from £111.1m in 2010/11. That was lower than its reported turnover of £113.4m, but includes an FRS 5 accounting quirk. At the halfway mark in 2012/13 the firm was posting similarly grudging growth figures of 2 per cent, with fee income up from £31.2m to £52.3m for the first six months.
Either way, the 2011/12 LLPs show a firm stabilising while looking to shave costs. The average number of fee-earners in 2011/12 was 347, down from 360 in 2010/11. Similarly, numbers for those listed as ‘other staff’ was down from 364 to 354. Staff costs fell from £46.3m to £44.3m.
The average number of partners fell from 123 to 120.
The highest-paid partner received £486,000 in 2011/12, up from £484,000.
Cash at the bank and in hand was £8.1m, up from £6.7m. The firm has an unsecured loan of £990,000 but little other debt. It uses the loan to spread its PI insurance payments. Nabarro has an aversion to debt that harks back to 1996, when average profit per equity partner slumped to £77,000 and the firm had a £20m overdraft.
Norton Rose’s UK LLP accounts show a growth path ahead of the firm’s merger with Fulbright & Jaworski. Its highest-earning partner took a profit share of more than £1m, the most since the firm became an LLP and was forced to bare all. The figure beat last year’s £839,000.
The average number of partners increased from 202 to 224, while the wage bill rose by 7 per cent, from £142.8m to £152.4m, and the average number of people employed increased by 1 per cent, from 2,099 to 2,124.
Fee income for Norton Rose’s UK LLP was £354.9m in 2011/12, up by 6.5 per cent from £333.2m. Profit available for distribution among partners was £81.2m, up by 6 per cent from £76.7m.
Cash at the bank and in hand was effectively stable at £15.1m.
The accounts cover a mixture of UK and overseas offices, but not all Norton Rose’s operations, such as its Australian, Canadian and South African businesses.
The defined-benefit pension scheme is closed to new members, with a defined-contribution scheme still available. Pension liability increased from £2.3m in 2010/11 to £12.2m in 2011/12.
Pinsent Masons’ figures do not take account of its merger with McGrigors, but paint a picture of a firm in decent health.
Turnover was £220.5m, up from £212.7m, while profit rose from £54.3m to £61.9m.
The average number of staff was up slightly, from 1,444 to 1,454. Staff costs rose from £90.6m to £95.1m. Breaking down personnel figures shows a fall in fee-earners from 814 to 809, while support staff numbers rose on average from 389 to 408. Partner numbers were static at 230.
The highest-paid partner got £531,645 in 2011/12, down from £558,797 the year before. Average profit per equity partner was flat at £400,000.
The firm spent £11.9m on land and buildings in 2011/12, down from £13.1m in 2010/11. It moved into a new London HQ in 2011 and the LLP accounts detail how Pinsents received a cash incentive of £24.6m from the developer and how this will be recognised over the life of the lease, reducing rent and other property costs.
The first half of 2012/13 looks promising. The firm posted a 4 per cent rise in turnover to £146m, up from £140m at the same period in 2011/12. That figure includes McGrigors’ turnover and was arrived at by combining each firm’s turnover for the first half of 2011/12.
The headline change highlighted in SJ Berwin’s 2010-11 accounts was a 321 per cent increase in net debt, from £1.9m in 2010/11 to £8m in 2011/12. At the same time, debt due within one year rose from £6m in 2010/11 to £10.5m in 2011/12. Managing partner Rob Day says this is due to a rise in its tax bill following a hike in profit in a previous year – probably 2010-11, when average profit per equity partner rose by 40 per cent.
Differences between estimated work-in-progress and the real figure meant final revenue for 2011/12 was £179.9m, a slight drop on the £180m reported previously.
The firm’s highest-earning partner received a profit share of just over £927,648, an 8 per cent drop on £1.006m in 2010/11. Profit per equity partner rose by 1 per cent, from £626,000 to £635,000.
The firm’s committed borrowing facility stood at £20m, expiring four years after the date of the accounts, an increase on the £15m facility expiring in two years in the 2010/11 accounts.
The latest accounts also show the firm has a £5m uncommitted overdraft facility, the same as in 2010/11.
Bank loans due within one year increased by 75 per cent, from £6m to £10.5m, while overdraft due within one year stood at £4.2m, up by 16 per cent from £3.6m in 2010/11.
Cash in the bank and in hand on 30 April 2012 was £6.7m, 13 per cent down on the £7.7m on 1 May 2011.
Taylor Wessing’s consolidated UK LLP accounts, which broadly reveal a firm in rude health, look anomalous compared with many in the market. Fee income in 2011/12 was £97.4m, but revenue broke through the £100m barrier for the first time, reaching £100.98m. This figure was up by nearly 11 per cent on 2010/11’s £91.2m revenue.
Operating costs rose too, but to a lesser extent. Overall expenses were up by 5.8 per cent, to £62.1m. As a result, profit for division among members was £30.3m, up by more than 25 per cent on the previous year’s £24.1m.
Unlike in 2010/