Move On Up: Bristows

All-equity, a hugely consistent growth strategy and plenty of female partners

Bristows, one of the UK’s last ­remaining all-equity, pure lockstep partnerships, is distinguished by its impressive consistency in recent years.

Much of the firm’s success can be attributed to its reputation for ­handling contentious and non-­contentious IP work. In 2007-08 the firm scooped three partners from now defunct US firm Howrey to boost its commercial disputes ­practice group. In the same year it added partner Mark Brown from ­Finers Stephens Innocent to its commercial disputes line-up. The arrivals boosted significantly the number of partners in the commercial litigation department from one to five.

In 2010-11 the firm racked up an 8 per cent rise in total turnover to £26m. This was consistent with the previous year’s growth, which stood at 8.5 per cent, and continued a three-year trend.

Only eight partners have left the firm in the past six years, two of whom retired, and the firm has made eight lateral hires during this period.

Tech heart

IT in particular has been a strongpoint and a focus for expansion at Bristows in recent years. In 2009 the firm hired Maclay Murray & Spens’ former IP/IT head Fiona Nicholson. A matter of months later data protection and ­public sector IT specialist Hazel Grant joined from Bird & Bird. This followed the hires of former ­Linklaters global privacy partner Christopher Millard as a consultant and Bird & Bird senior ­associate Toby Crick as a partner in September that year.

2006-07 proved a difficult year for the firm’s IP litigation department, with five partners breaking away to form IP boutique Powell Gilbert. The five partners – Tim Powell, Penny Gilbert, Simon Ayrton, Zoe Butler and Alex Wilson – launched the firm in 2007 alongside five ex-Bristows ­associates. That year also saw the departure of partner David Wilkinson to lead the IP practice at Guildford-based Stevens & Bolton.

Notably, however, there have been no departures from the firm since 2007, with the only losses coming as a result of the retirements of real estate partner Michael Rowles in 2008 and corporate partner John Lace in 2010. Both Lace and Rowles joined ­Bristows in 1974 and were promoted to the partnership in 1978.

Bristows has also made a concerted effort to bulk up its offering in areas away from IP, IT and litigation.

In 2009 the firm hired corporate ­partner Ken Boehner from US firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, where he had served as European managing partner for five years. This raised the number of hires in 2009-10 to four, equalling the firm’s hiring record in 2007-08.

Bristows’ partnership grew from 29 to 31 in 2010-11, with women making up around a third of the partnership. Average profit per equity partner went up from £267,000 to £293,000.

Further down the ranks the firm is making an effort to ramp up the number of associates made up to partner to match incoming hires, promoting eight associates in ­addition to its eight laterals.

Internal promotions have been fairly evenly spread across practice areas. Although it is no surprise to see four associates made up to ­partner in IP litigation, the real ­estate, brands, corporate and finance departments have all made up a partner apiece over the past six years, including the promotion of Jerry Merton, the firm’s director of ­finance and administration, making him the first non-lawyer partner at the firm. Two out of the eight promotions were women, one being Teresa Edmund in 2007-08 and the other Liz Cohen in 2008-09.

Bands of gold

In 2010-11 the firm had 18 trainees and 65 associates. It sets out clear bands for associates, from newly qualified right up to five years’ PQE. The salary bands go from £53,500 for newly qualified associates and rises to £80,000 for five year-qualifieds and beyond.