Stuck in the middle

The big firms are getting aggressive, the small firms are consolidating. Where does that leave the mid-market?

It was all going so well for Trowers & Hamlins back in 2005-06. The firm posted one of the highest revenue increases in that year’s The Lawyer UK 100, with the figure jumping 28 per cent to £56.4m, while average profit per equity partner rocketed by 70 per cent from £278,000 to £472,000.

With the bulk of this performance coming from Trowers’ hefty weighting to real estate and the Middle Eastern markets, however, the successes were not to be sustained. The firm continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate, until 2007-08, but from then on revenues stagnated before going into reverse in the 2010-11 financial year.

Trowers’ LLP accounts for 2010-11 state that turnover fell in that year “due to the difficult prevailing economic and political conditions in the UK and overseas”, but that only tells half the story.

The firm was hit particularly hard by political conditions overseas because, with non-UK offices located only in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt and Saudi, it had no international hedge against the Arab Spring. Closer to home, its mainstay public sector practice had the rug pulled from under it when the Coalition Government decided to start slashing budgets.

Recent moves have seen Trowers pull out of Saudi (although this decision was less a strategic statement and more the result of the firm losing its last Riyadh associate to its local ally) and launch a public sector-focused office in the crowded Birmingham market.

The firm has no plans for any major strategic changes, though.

“Following the successful completion of a number of joint UK and international deals over the past year we anticipate our corporate and real estate practices both in the UK and overseas to deliver the most growth,” states senior partner Jonathan Adlington. “We’re a City, national and international law firm and we’ll remain as such. We have no present aspirations to become a multidisciplinary partnership, take in private equity or merge.”


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