The Lawyer Awards: Firm of the Year shortlist 2018

The first is that the inclusion of Keystone and Lawyers on Demand (LOD) on the shortlist demonstrates that New Law has well and truly embedded itself in the profession.

LOD arrived on the scene in 2007 and, in the words of one judge, “goes from strength to strength, showing that they have an innovative an sustainable business model, that now has a shopping list of well priced product lines.”

With almost 500 actively engaged lawyers and a 300+ strong, blue chip client base with 80 per cent retention among the top 50 clients, “LOD rivals any of the top law firms in the market,” said a judge and senior in-house lawyer. “In a world of increasing competition from law firms and emerging new ALS providers, LOD continues to power on and carry the torch for true innovation in law.”

Keystone, meanwhile, dates back to 2002 when it was called Lawyers Direct. The past year has seen it float on the London Stock Exchange, become the first dispersed model to enter The Lawyer’s UK top 100 ranking and recruit 60 partner-level lawyers. Judges praised the fact “that it’s not afraid to innovate or adapt, being highly sought after as an employer – usually it’s the other way around!” and liked its real time recording pricing structures.

The second notable trend is that it’s never too late for a firm to reinvent itself.

Mishcon de Reya won the Law Firm of the Year award in 2017.

As well as Keystone and LOD there are six other firms on the shortlist. They are not magic or silver circle names. Nor are they fashionable mid-sizers like tech-focused Osborne Clarke or glamour litigators Mishcon de Reya, both of which have won this award in recent years. 

They are simply six firms that have proved reliable and resilient over the last decade, reshaping themselves to survive and thrive in the rapidly-changing legal landscape.

Ten years ago, Clyde & Co looked an old-school shipping and insurance firm. Now it is a very different beast, one which has grown hugely to leave rivals in its wake. Judges recognised that it has “a clear sense of strategy, drive and purpose,” and for its innovation and growth rate, as well as its impressive roster of deals and cases in the last year.

Likewise, ten years ago Fieldfisher was Field Fisher Waterhouse, a mid-market London firm beset by infighting and strife. But as our recent cover feature showed, under Michael Chissick it has blossomed into a focused, successful and happy organisation. Bumper revenue growth, major European expansion and innovation in pricing and technology products all impressed the judges.

Without fanfare, Mills & Reeve too has undergone a transformation, from a primarily East Anglian firm to one that is increasingly national, with annual fee income passing £100m for the first time earlier this year. Alongside impressive growth, the judges noted the firm’s demonstrable commitment to supporting and developing their people – “the most important part of any law firm business.”

Pinsent Masons, meanwhile, has gone from national to international in the past decade. Revenue up 31 per cent and profitability up 54 per cent in the four years since it set out its strategic vision, a 100 per cent increase in revenue generated outside the UK, a 75 per cent increase in clients generating over £1m annually: “the stats say it all,” says one judge. “This firm excels in every area and is one of the most innovative in the industry.”

Watson Farley & Williams, founded in the 80s by three ex-Norton Rose partners as shipping and aviation finance practice, has endured and grown to become one of the most successful firms in its category, with judges acknowledging a growth plan that is working and real, deep sector expertise. The last 12 months has clearly been an excellent one for the firm, with big new client wins and the firm working on some innovative ‘firsts’.

Finally, no firm has transformed so much over the last year as CMS, thanks to its three-way merger with Olswang and Nabarro. Needless to say, this dominated judges’ discussions of the firm. “CMS have pulled off the seemingly impossible, a tripartite merger that the industry said could not work,” said one. “They have used the merger to accelerate substantially: it is an astonishing piece of strategic business.”  Added another: “The tripartite merger of three quality firms results in a formidable presence in the legal market.”

Which of these eight firms will eventually emerge triumphant? The winner will be announced at The Lawyer Awards on 26 June.

Published by the Lawyer 22nd June 2018

Tuesday Jun 26, 2018