What lies behind Macfarlanes’ double digit growth?

So far the year’s financial results have been considerably been better than expected. Of the top 50 firms to have so far reported only one – Field Fisher Waterhouse – has shown a dip in revenues (see table).

Charles Martin
Charles Martin

But at this stage of the game one question dominates most of the others. Just how has Macfarlanes done it?

‘It’, by the way, refers to the double digit increases in turnover and net profit the exclusively UK-based corporate-heavy blue blood has just managed to post (4 July 2013). In the context of the UK market’s well-known travails, that’s quite some performance, particularly as any handy top-line ballooning mergers are notably absent in Macfarlanes’ case.

Let’s call it astonishing, shall we? Why not. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter.

Focusing on the micro aspects can sometimes lead to a macro result, and at Mac(ro)farlanes, word is that it’s nothing more revolutionary than good old-fashioned client service. In particular senior partner Charles Martin has, over the past few years, contributed to the stellar 2012/13 financial performance by sweating the small stuff.

“From what I see and from what people tell me, Charles Martin has very cleverly and without fanfare focused the firm much more,” says Alan Hodgart of Hodgart Associates. “He’s also driven up the quality of service. He does a ton of client meetings and feeds it all back to the firm. And he micro manages that. So it’s a lot of small things that has helped them to maintain their position.”

Add to that a repositioned strategy (12 March 2013), which has injected a bit better balance into the firm. Macfarlanes is now increasing its focus on advisory work, disputes and investigations, tantamount to an admission that it had been over exposed to the deal market during the downturn.

At the time Martin outlined his firm’s aims for a business balanced between three areas: transactions (which include real estate and finance), advisory (which covers general advice to corporate and private clients) and disputes.

A little less publicly, Macfarlanes is also thought to have gradually shifted the emphasis of its largest group (corporate) on to private rather than public company work, a move that has also brought with it a raft of associated matters for high-net-worth individuals.

“Macfarlanes is still full service but there’s now a spearhead into high-end corporate and acting for rich individuals,” says Hodgart. “And there are a lot of things that wrap around that.”

 Macfarlanes’ push into the lateral hiring market is a related offshoot of that strategy and a contributor to its heftier turnover this year.

Its recent string of hires for the traditionally lateral-shy firm kicked off in 2011 when it snatched Shearman & Sterling partner and former Ashurst managing partner Ian Nisse (9 September 2011).

The uptick in laterals has also seen it take on Speechly Bircham private client partner Charles Gothard (26 November 2012), Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld hedge funds partner Simon Thomas (18 February 2013) and Shearman & Sterling real estate specialist Clare Breeze (13 June 2013).

Clearly a destination of choice.