UK 200: Top 100 make £20bn for first time

The 100 largest law firms in the UK billed more than £20bn in fees last year – the largest revenue ever achieved by the group.

In 2015/16 the top 100 firms in The Lawyer’s annual UK 200 report generated a total turnover of £20.13bn, a rise of 5 per cent on 2014/15’s £19.24bn.

Over the past five years since 2011/12 the total value of The Lawyer top 100 has grown by 19.2 per cent, from £16.891bn.

The increase of almost £1bn (£886m) has been achieved in a year when major mergers were notable by their absence in the UK market. The 2015/16 financial year did include the merger of Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co and Canada’s Gowlings but as this went live in February only the legacy UK firm’s financial data is included in this year’s report.

Other than this the largest mergers to feature UK firms during 2015/16 were that of Shakespeares and SGH Martineau and Irwin Mitchell and Thomas Eggar.

The total number of lawyers in the top 100 grew from 52,629 in 2014/15 to 54,924 last year, a rise of 4 per cent.

The bottom line also grew in 2015/16. Total net profit across the top 100 rose by 4.7 per cent from £6.191bn to £6.492bn.

A total of 11 firms make it into the million-pound plus average profit per equity partner (PEP) club this year, including Mishcon de Reya and Sackers on £1m to Slaughter and May on an estimated £1.9m (the vast majority of firms provide financial data to The Lawyer each year but Slaughters is among those that do not).

The firm that posted the biggest rise in PEP proportionately is Newcastle’s Ward Hadaway, a rise of 58 per cent to £352,000.

Howard Kennedy also posted impressively robust results, a 40 per cent rise to £505,000 while the largest firm by turnover to register a double digit PEP increase was Addleshaw Goddard, up 39 per cent to £682,000.

In contrast Ashurst was the largest firm to post a double digit PEP decrease, with PEP falling by 19 per cent to £603,000 while Boodle Hatfield saw its PEP drop by almost a third (28 per cent each). BLM and Weightmans also both saw a significant reduction.

Olswang, which on 1 May 2017 will become part of CMS along with Nabarro, had the highest number of partner departures proportionately, with the media and technology-focused firm seeing 12 per cent of its partners departing during 2015/16.

The average revenue per lawyer (RPL) rankings reveal a degree of split between the UK’s big four magic circle firms. Of the big four only Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, with an RPL of £645,000, is included in the quartet of top 100 firms that posted an RPL of above £600,000. The other three are Slaughters (£915,000), Dickson Minto (£613,000) and Sackers (£611,000).

Slaughters ranks highest among firms in the top 100 on RPL but it is not the highest across the entire UK 200. Bott & Co and drydensfairfax, both of which appear in the lower 100 firms report, the Independents and which posted RPLs of £1.59m and £1m respectively, secured first and second spot in the UK 200.

The next three firms ranked by RPL are the remainder of the big four: Linklaters (£594,000), Allen & Overy (£590,000) and Clifford Chance (£554,000).

The UK 200: Top 100 will be published on Monday. To purchase the full report contact Richard Edwards on 0207 970 4672 or richard.edwards@centaurmedia.com