The first set of corporate law firm financial results are looking strong

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Good times return to the City

It’s corporate law firm financial results season — and the early signs for the year are very positive.

Of the 12 major corporate law firms to have released their results so far, all have posted a rise in revenue while those that released profit per equity partner (PEP) figures have reported increases too.

Leading the way in the revenue rise table is CMS, with a whopping 31% increase to £1.3 billion, followed by Fieldfisher, which is up 24% to £207 million, and Dentons UKMEA, up by 22% to £203.1 million. While these turnover boosts have been significantly aided by mergers — CMS with Nabarro and Olswang, Fieldfisher with Hill Hofstetter, and Dentons with Maclay Murray & Spens — the performance of other firms suggests the increases are about more than that.

Osborne Clarke, for example, has seen revenue jump by 14%, while Simmons & Simmons and Taylor Wessing are both up by 12%. Meanwhile, TLT, Browne Jacobson, Winckworth Sherwood, Pinsent Masons and Ashurst have seen turnover rises of, respectively, 10%, 9%, 8.5%, 6% and 4%.

The strongest performers for PEP increases so far have been Dentons, with a 36% jump to £651,000, Taylor Wessing, which rocketed by 20% to £579,000. There were impressive increases, too, at CMS (19%), Fieldfisher (17%), Eversheds Sutherland (12%) and Ashurst (11%).

The figures reflect the wave of growth that swept across the globe during 2017, and which the President Trump tax cuts at the beginning of this year may extend — if the accompanying protectionist policies being pursued by the US don’t negate their effect.

But the improvement of law firms’ overall fortunes come at a time of uncertainty for students seeking to enter the legal profession. Legal Cheek reported in the autumn that training contracts at the leading corporate law firms fell by 5% last year, while the latest Law Society Annual Statistical Report showed training contract numbers across the profession as a whole to have fallen back slightly. On the rise have been law firm investment in technology, and a growing reluctance among clients to pay for trainees’ time.

Still, with 5,719 students beginning training contracts last year — down from a 2008 high of 6,303 but up from a financial crisis low of 4,784 — the legal profession remains a pretty healthy place for graduates.

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