A total of 52 towns and cities are represented in The Lawyer UK 200: The Independents report this year, five fewer than last year’s 57.
From Bournemouth to Brierley Hill and from Guildford to Grimsby, there is a vast geographic spread in the UK’s smaller top 200 firms.
London retains its place as the largest city represented across all of the bottom 100, with 26 firms headquartered there, four more than the 22 recorded last year. Leeds and Edinburgh are next with six firms, followed by Newcastle on four, and Manchester with three.
The South East
Southampton’s Moore Blatch maintains pole position in the South East measured by revenue generation, posting £22.1m in turnover. The firm’s revenue, up 6 per cent on the £20.9m recorded last year, has grown for two successive years following a dip in 2013/14.
Revenue per lawyer rose from £215,000 to £221,000, with revenue per partner also rising from £523,000 to £553,000. Revenue per equity partner reached £2.2m.
Litigious work contributes almost half (46 per cent) of the firm’s revenue when broken down by practice area. Personal injury and insurance-related litigation account for 36 per cent while litigation and arbitration contributes 10 per cent. Property is the second biggest revenue generator, accounting for 32 per cent.
Thomson Snell & Passmore, whose client base includes Close Brothers, Motorline and Berry Garden Growers, also had a strong year. The Royal Tunbridge Wells-based firm saw turnover increase 12 per cent, from £16.9m to £18.9m in the 2015/16 financial year.
Simon Slater was appointed as Thomson Snell’s first CEO in June 2015, joining from accountancy firm PKF Littlejohn. Since then the firm has embarked on an ambitious five-year growth strategy to increase revenue to £25m.
The North West
The comparable firm to Moore Blatch in the North West region is Leigh’s Stephensons, which posted a turnover of £19.8m last year, a 6 per cent rise on the previous year from £18.6m. This follows a 5 per cent rise on 2013, from £17.7m to £18.6m. Since 2012/13 turnover has risen by 21 per cent from £16.3m.
Meanwhile Southport-based Fletchers is certainly one to watch in this region. The firm posted a revenue of £16.5m last year, up 37 per cent on the £12m recorded in 2014/15. It consequently rose 26 places up The Independents table from 155 to 129.
Ed Fletcher, CEO at Fletchers, expects the firm to break into the top 100 by 2018. The firm has kept residence at its sole office in Southport for 30 years and will continue to do so, although Fletcher confirms that the possibility of geographic expansion is regularly discussed at board level.
Birchall Blackburn Law is the sole new addition to the North West in the UK 200 Independents this year, bringing the total number of firms in the region to nine.
The largest of the Scottish firms is Edinburgh-headquartered Turcan Connell. The private client firm’s revenue was estimated at £22m, down 8.3 per cent from £24m the previous year following the spin-off of its asset management arm.
The firm’s profit has been estimated at £4.4m. This translates to a profit margin of 20 per cent and an average profit per equity partner of £315,000.
In 2014/15 the firm offloaded its Guernsey trust and corporate service business, Saltire Trustees, to Imperium Trust Company and also closed its Geneva-based Saltire Fiduciarie.
The trend continued in 2015/16, when Turcan Connell Asset Management was spun out in a management buyout backed by a selection of high-profile fund managers including Crispin Odey, founder of Odey Asset Management.
Edinburgh’s Lindsays was the fastest growing Scottish firm in this year’s Independents report. Lindsays posted a healthy 15 per cent rise in turnover to £12.2m in 2015/16 from £10.6m the previous year. Including the real estate arm of the business, total revenue stands at £13.2m.
The full-service firm has expanded through the acquisition of Dundee-based RSB Macdonald in July 2015. The merger added property, litigation and a family law team to Lindsays’ portfolio. The Dundee office is now the second largest at the firm behind Edinburgh.
The firm’s five offices, located in Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and North Berwick, offer a range of legal services from private client and the third sector to healthcare and renewable energy.
Meanwhile Ledingham Chalmers flies the flag for Aberdeen. The firm’s turnover, impacted by the slump in oil price, fell 2.5 per cent to £11.4m last year following three consecutive years of growth.
It remains one of the best-known firms in north-east Scotland and its development has tracked Aberdeen’s emergence as the capital of the European oil and gas exploration and production sector.
Ledingham Chalmers chairman and partner Jennifer Young says the deflation in the market linked to the oil price did affect the firm’s revenue, particularly in residential property sales in Aberdeen.
While the firm’s market share of residential property sales in Aberdeen increased in 2015/16 and has continued into 2016/17, Young explains that the market has been slow in converting activity to revenue.
York-headquartered Langleys is the largest firm in Yorkshire in the Independents section of the UK 200. The firm’s turnover nudged up slightly from £20.7m to £21.3m last year. Since 2011/12 its revenue has increased by 19 per cent, from £17.8m.
Average profit per equity partner rose by 7.4 per cent from £254,000 to £273,000 while revenue per lawyer increased from £255,000 to £266,000. Revenue per partner hit £708,000 in 2015/16, down from £713,000 the previous year but 45 per cent up on the £491,000 recorded seven years ago.
Leeds-based Shulmans remains one of the stand-out performers with a six-year trajectory of double-digit growth
Meanwhile Leeds-based Shulmans has been one of the stand-out performers in the UK 200 over the past few years. Turnover increased 15 per cent from £10.8m to £12.4m, continuing a
trajectory of double-digit growth for a sixth straight year.
The firm’s revenue derives from property work (46 per cent), litigation (29 per cent) and corporate (25 per cent). It also has particular expertise in dilapidations and overseas investment in UK property.
Shulmans counts Betfred, Optare, Oriium and 21st Century Technology among its key clients.
The UK 200 Independents also sees the arrival of three Yorkshire firms this year: Wrigleys, Schofield Sweeney and Drydensfairfax Solicitors, bringing the total number in the region to 12.
Newcastle-under-Lyme-headquartered Knights is the regional flag-bearer for the West Midlands, posting the highest revenue for the independents in the area at £20.5m.
It reported a 24 per cent rise in turnover last year from £16.5m, which followed a 33 per cent rise on the previous year from £12.4m to £16.5m. Since 2013 the firm’s turnover has more than doubled from £9.4m.
Knights’ growth was underpinned by the acquisition of Oxford-based full-service firm Darbys
in November 2015. Total fee-earner numbers for the private equity-backed firm now stands at 330 while lawyer numbers have almost doubled to 183.
Revenues at all of the independent firms based in the West Midlands increased this year. Wright Hassall joins Knights in posting a double-digit increase of 10 per cent to £17.6m, while Higgs & Sons, Lanyon Bowdler, Anthony Collins and FBC Manby Bowdler all increased their revenue.
The South West
Bournemouth’s Lester Aldridge heads the list of the South West firms that populate this year’s Independents list. Ranked 109, it just misses out on a spot in the top 100. The firm’s turnover edged up £720,000 from £19.7m to £20.4m last year. Since 2011/12 its revenue has increased by 26 per cent, from £16.2m.
Net profit rose by 12 per cent from £3.6m to £4.1m while average profit per equity partner also increased from £216,000 to £293,000.
Exeter’s Stephens Scown is the second-highest revenue generator in the South West with £17.9m for 2015/16, up 16 per cent on the £15.3m in 2014/15 and 33 per cent up on the £13.4m posted in 2013/14.
The firm’s strong financial performance has been underpinned by improvements to client engagement through increased transparency around numbers and pricing. The firm has also introduced a John Lewis-style bonus model for all staff in which, on average, each employee received £3,000.
It continues to support regional businesses, such as the local agricultural sector, while representing national mining and renewable energy companies throughout the UK and overseas.
New blood in this year’s Independents
Entering at 196 out of 200, Leeds-based Schofield Sweeney has the smallest revenue (£9m) of all of the new additions to this year’s UK 200.
Schofield Sweeney is a commercial firm offering a range of services to businesses and organisations across the Yorkshire region. It acts in sectors ranging from renewables, retail and transport to charities, education and healthcare. Property generates the highest proportion of revenue at 30 per cent, followed by corporate and litigation (both 24 per cent).
In January 2016 it merged with Huddersfield’s Armitage Sykes to expand its offering in West Yorkshire. Shareholding directors at Armitage Sykes joined Schofield Sweeney as partners while its managing director, Rob Kelly, joined Sweeney’s board.
Managing partner Martin Sweeney says that fully integrating the Huddersfield office with the wider network is an ongoing priority for the business following the merger.
Also representing the Yorkshire region and making their debuts in this year’s UK 200 are Bradford’s niche debt recovery firm Drydensfairfax (£9m) and Leeds-based private client firm Wrigleys (£11.3m).
Meanwhile the North East contributed Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s accident claims specialist Winn Solicitors. The firm appears this year at 145 with a turnover of £13.9m.
Tees Law flies the flag for the East of England. The firm offers a full suite of legal services to its clients from offices in Bishops Stortford, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Saffron Walden and Royston. Turnover for the most recent financial year stands at £13.4m, giving the firm a ranking of 147 out of 200.
The final two additions to the Independents this year are Bristol’s legal expenses insurer DAS Law (£13.4m) and Manchester’s Birchall Blackburn Law (£16.1m).