Move On Up: Stewarts Law

A loyal partner base is the hallmark of this fast-growing litigation boutique, perhaps due to the high rewards available

Litigation boutique Stewarts Law has grown rapidly in the past few years, both in terms of headcount and ­financial results, through a combination of mergers, promotions and ­lateral hires.

While the firm’s acquisitions of smaller outfits, such as commercial litigation boutique Masseys in July 2010, have helped it to move into the UK’s top 100 law firms, Stewarts has also developed a remarkably loyal partner base. Since May 2006 it has lost just four, and none of those went to rival firms.

The main additions to the partnership have come through lateral hires, with 16 partners brought in from other firms or in-house roles compared with 10 made up internally ­between May 2006 and April 2011.

Lateral hires include the four partners who joined from Masseys in 2010. Sean Upson, Jane Colston, Fiona Gillett and Fiona Stewart boosted Stewarts’ commercial litigation team in the 2010-11 financial year. An addition to the commercial litigation group was Manches partner Keith Thomas, in June 2010.

Group dynamic

The same financial year saw Stewarts launch an employment litigation group. It did so by hiring Lewis Silkin partner Gareth Brahams and bringing on board Simmon & Simmons ­associate Tim Spillane as a partner.

Previous years were less heavy on the lateral hiring. In 2006-07 Stewarts hired Amlin general counsel James Healy-Pratt to lead an aviation litigation group. It then made no further lateral hires until 2008-09. In that year clinical negligence specialist Muiris Lyons joined from Irwin Mitchell and divorce partner Debbie Chism moved in from Manches, both in London. Stewarts’ Leeds office gained Gordons’ head of divorce Simon Preston.

A further five laterals were made in the following year. Two more partners joined from Manches – heavyweight commercial litigators Andrew Shaw and Clive Zietman. The team also gained PricewaterhouseCoopers lawyer Paul Brehony as a partner and Withers divorce partner Emma Hatley. In Leeds, Stewarts launched an antitrust litigation practice with Jonathan Sinclair from Eversheds.

Promotions have been predominantly in London. Two were in the Leeds office, both in 2007-08, when clinical negligence lawyer Frank Pinch and personal injury (PI) specialist Ben Townsend were made up.

In the same year the firm ­promoted another four partners; ­aviation lawyer Sarah Stewart and clinical negligence lawyer Robert Dransfield, alongside PI lawyers Katherine Lennon and Charles ­Edwards. Lennon has since left the firm and the legal profession.

The remaining four internal partner promotions at the firm, one in 2008-09 and three in 2010-11, were all also to the PI department.

Lennon is the only recent promotion or hire to have left Stewarts ­recently. Between 2006 and 2011 one partner retired from the partnership. In 2006 PI partner Nicola Harney left to join the Treasury Solicitor’s ­department, and in 2010-11 Colum Leonard was appointed a senior costs judge.

Although Stewarts remains a small firm, with 13 equity partners and 21 fixed share partners in the 2010-11 financial year, its partner retention rate is impressive and has led to a net gain of 22 partners in five years. This may be partially ascribed to the firm’s high rates of pay and profitability. In 2010-11 average profit per equity partner reached £926,000, while the average pay for the fixed-share partnership was £168,000.

The past five years have also seen significant growth in Stewarts’ ­female partnership. Four women were made up, representing 40 per cent of promotions, while five – 31 per cent of all laterals – were hired.

Lennon and Harney’s departures left Stewarts with eight female partners in the last financial year. This figure has grown since, with the January hire of Russell Jones & Walker employment partner Arpita Dutt.

The firm has also continued to hire into the associate ranks in both Leeds and London in a number of ­departments, including commercial litigation and divorce and family.

Promotions and senior hires

James Healy-Pratt, head of aviation
Stewarts’ only hire from in-house, Healy-Prat joined the firm in 2006

Clive Zietman, head of commercial litigation
Zietman is one of four Manches partners to join since 2006

Fiona Gillett, commercial litigation partner
Joined when Stewarts bolted on boutique Masseys in 2010