Firms report mixed financial fortunes at half-year stage

The first half of the 2009-10 financial year has brought with it an increase in workload for trainee solicitors as many law firm results show that some stability has returned to the market.

Firms that are focused more on corporate and real estate have continued to suffer, while those with strong financial, tax and employment practices have weathered the recession better.

Another trend has seen some of the smaller firms perform better on balance than their larger counterparts, the best of which were happy to tread water in a difficult market.

Among the success stories was Denton Wilde Sapte, which posted a 3.5 per cent rise on year-to-date revenue, with fee income rising from £84.7m in October 2008 to £87.7m at the half-year stage.

Denton’s graduate recruitment partner Jeremy Cape said: “It’s always good in a recession to see positive results. In turn, this means we’re keeping our trainees busy, which is good for them because our ultimate aim is to produce trainees who are well versed in legal practice.”

Meanwhile, in the first six months of 2009-10 Stephenson Harwood saw revenue rise by 8 per cent to £42.6m.

The firm’s chief executive Sharon White said: “These results reflect our well-hedged business, which includes a healthy balance between non-contentious and contentious work.”

DWF was another mid-market firm to post impressive half-year figures. The firm achieved a 15 per cent rise in fee income, improving from £28m in 2008-09 to £32m in the six months to the end of October 2009.

LG’s revenue grew by 10 per cent during the period, although this followed an 11 per cent drop in turnover for the full 2008-09 year.

Bucking the general trend, the firm said its corporate arm was well ahead of budget, along with dispute resolution and finance.

Among the firms that saw turnover fall, Olswang recorded a 3 per cent drop, bringing in £43.3m.

Berwin Leighton Paisner saw revenue fall from £84m in the first six months of last year to £80m this time around, representing a 5 per cent drop.

Wragge & Co’s decline in revenue stood at a more manageable 3 per cent, with senior partner Quentin Poole reflecting market opinion that the first half of 2009-10 had “got gradually better”, while the second half of 2008-09 had “got gradually worse”.

Pinsent Masons saw its half-year revenue drop by 7 per cent after bringing in £98m against £105m a year earlier. According to a firm spokesperson, this was “broadly what we were expecting”.

Elsewhere, Taylor Wessing has claimed it is on track to hit its financial targets for 2009-10 despite posting half-year figures showing a 15 per cent downturn.

The firm generated total fee income of £77m in the first six months of the year compared with £90.3m for the same period in 2008-09.

Ashurst has posted a 14 per cent dip in first half revenue, with fee earners bringing in £136m compared with £158m in the same period last year.

The result represents one of the biggest drops among the top firms. Other double-digit fallers include CMS Cameron McKenna, which posted a 13 per cent decline, and Simmons & Simmons, which saw a fall of 16 per cent.

Magic circle firm Allen & Overy posted a 7 per cent year-on-year fall, with global revenues of £548m compared with £511m last year. Rival Linklaters, meanwhile, saw its half-year revenue fall by 9.5 per cent, with the firm attracting £591m compared with £653m in the same period last year.

While many of the top 10 firms are still finalising their numbers for the six months, Lovells and Norton Rose reported flat figures against last year’s.