Field Fisher Waterhouse (London)
Back in the mists of time around the millennium, FFW
was seen as a slightly crusty mid-sized firm. Since then it has managed
to develop a slightly more sexy image: it’s now increased its capacity in technology,
IP and European regulatory work. It also takes legal geek levels to new
heights – in 2007 it was the first (and only?) UK law firm to open a virtual office
in the online community Second Life.
But despite the gimmicks, the firm set itself some
very tough goals, with mixed success. In 2005, when its revenue was
just over £52m, its target was to hit £75m by 2008. Turnover for that
year actually reached an impressive £88m. It was aiming for £200m by
2012, but it's been a tough time for everyone and the firm only managed £97.6m.
FFW struggled during the boom when staff had to
work hard to cope with the influx of work, salaries didn't keep pace
with the rest of the City and FFW found it difficult to recruit.
Underpaid and overworked assistants do not make for a happy ship, and
the firm accepts that "salary was a huge concern
". And it didn't win
points when, just after posting a massive 30% rise in turnover, it made
some 15 of its real estate lawyers redundant.
The firm was inevitably affected by the credit crunch too, with
42 redundancies in the 2008/09 period. It did then gear itself up for a period of serious expansion, announcing a
three-year growth plan focusing on corporate, IP/IT and regulatory. The
plan was named the "virtuous triangle" - a (much mocked) moniker
that FFW thought so inspired, it had the term trademarked. The jury's still out - PEP has dropped by 20% and it suffered a failed merger with Lawrence Graham earlier this year.
Pay has remained a bone of contention for the firm's staff, although things have improved. Pay is at least now a bit more reasonable (if still not fantastic) - back in 2007 it transpired that newly
qualified assistants at Weil Gotshal made more money than newly made up
partners at FFW…
Lower salaries may have helped cause FFW's woeful performance in the Firm of the Year Survey 2011, where it scraped second to last position, narrowly avoiding Golden Turd status. It rose three places in the Firm of the Year Survey 2012
with props given for "listening to fee earners
" and "good and supportive staff
But it wasn't all rosy by any means: Staff complain about poor internal communications, wages "still lagging behind our contemporaries at other firms
", and "little sense of a career path
." And lawyers are almost uniformly scathing of their offices at the arse
end of the City which are "reminiscent of 1970s Stalingrad
The partnership is relatively young and diverse. At the more junior end FFW claims that it takes a serious
interest in the development of junior lawyers - there's a pretty
comprehensive training scheme (which you would expect) and many
assistants have their own marketing budgets (which you might not).
FFW has made an about turn on its vision of the future. It's tightened up its financial management - including billing and collection. It's also keenly pursuing a merger. The firm approached LG in May with a view to tying up but discussions fell apart fairly acrimoniously, with FFW being less than kind about LG's financials and LG suggesting FFW's partnership was not as united as it might be. But FFW has quickly dusted itself off and has now reportedly set its sights on Osborne Clarke.
It's been a tough time for FFW with the drop off in public sector work, rumours of divided partners, revenue targets missed and falling partner profits. A merger could be the answer to its prayers, if it finds the right partner.
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