Market recovery in question as three law firms wield redundancy axe

Avatar photo

By Judge John Hack on

Could flurry of lay-offs at Hill Dickinson, Capsticks and Plexus Law be the beginning of something?


Legal profession recruitment gurus may be talking up a recovering market — and official figures continue to show a growing solicitors’ profession — but there’s nothing like a spate of redundancy stories to bring lawyers crashing back to earth.

At the end of last week, two top-100 regional law firms demonstrated why anyone with a jot of common sense should be cautious about the words legal profession and recovery.

The Lawyer magazine reported that Liverpool-based Hill Dickinson had kicked off a 30-day redundancy consultation process in advance of handing some 30 insurance department staff their cards.

Reports were not clear on how many of that crop would be lawyers or fee-earners, but the announcement came after 16 solicitors and 26 other fee-earners in the counter fraud team were given glasses of redundo red last year.

Hill Dickinson is ranked at equal 30th in Legal Business’s UK top-100. But the firm’s 2014 revenue was down by £1.2 million to £111.6m compared with the previous year. On average, full equity partners at the practice took home £264,000 in 2014.

Meanwhile, managing partners at London niche health, social care and housing law firm Capsticks were also sharpening the axe. According to partner chat room and weekly online newsletter Roll on Friday, the firm will be sacking 10 of its lawyers.

The Legal Biz league table reckons that Capsticks is keen on maintaining tight equity and as a result it boasted a muscular 2014 PEP figure of £437,000. Sending 10 colleagues to the job centre is at least likely to result in that profit remaining stable.

Economic sand shifting

Several days earlier, The Lawyer reported that another insurance-specialist practice, City of London-based Plexus Law was gearing up to slash 80 roles, 10 of which were likely to be lawyers.

The developments are obviously traumatic for the lawyers and other staff at those three firms directly in the line of fire to lose their jobs. And those practices all focus on specific practice areas that are vulnerable to shifting economic sands.

But wannabe solicitors should also be concerned by the smoke signals the redundancy moves send to the wider market. At the end of last month, Legal Cheek reported on the Law Society’s latest annual statistical report showing the solicitors’ profession had grown by 20% in the last decade.

On its face, that growth sounds encouraging. But on reflection, like booming property prices on the Costa del Sol circa early 2008, it is not difficult to get the feeling that a bubble is going to burst.