The combined profits of the UK’s 100 largest law firms have broken the £5bn mark for the first time, research has revealed, as the sector shrugged off the economic gloom.
The top 100 – which focus on corporate law, dealing with mergers, acquisitions and advising major companies – billed £17.7bn in the financial year 2011/12, pulling in £5.4bn in profits, up eight per cent on the previous year, magazine Legal Business said.
The impressive performance, helped by a number of major law firms merging in the previous year.
The figures came despite the economy returning to recession in the first quarter of 2012.
The top five legal firms in the UK by turnover are DLA Piper, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the study said.
DLA Piper has 837 people working across its Leeds and Sheffield offices.
DLA Piper’s operation in Leeds recently reported a “phenomenal” year for fee income as international players choose Yorkshire lawyers for legal work.
Sarah Day, the office managing partner since May 2011, said the last financial year was the “best in recent history”.
Ms Day, a finance partner, said the strong performance was due to areas that typically do well in downturns such as litigation, but also others that might have been expected to struggle, such as real estate.
The office has diversified its client base in recent years and acts for a number of national and international property and venture capital funds, including Sun Capital Partners, the US buyout firm.
“They are very active in the market at the moment and in some places are making the market, “ Ms Day said of the funds.
Leeds is DLA Piper’s second largest UK office by headcount, with a collegiate’ group of 44 partners. The total headcount is 483.
Ranked at number 10, in terms of turnover, is Square Sanders, which has 266 staff in Leeds.
Mark McAteer, national editor at Legal Business, said: “Despite the dismal economy of the last four years and the current double-dip recession, our legal industry is in rude health.”
The survey was first published 20 years ago when the top 100 firms collectively billed their clients £2.7bn and made profits of £891m. The legal market has grown eight-fold since then, compared to the wider economy, which has grown only 2.5 times over the same period.
The top 100 UK law firms employ a total of 55,629 lawyers and 46,702 non-lawyers, the survey found.
The magazine said that 668 people had been promoted to partner in 2012.
Legal firm Slaughter and May’s lawyers are also the most profitable with each generating, on average, £304,000 in profit for the firm.