Osborne Clarke (Bristol)
Osborne Clarke is back on stellar form after a couple of wobbly years. Profits are at a whopping £425,000 per partner, Bristol's best showing by a long chalk. The firm recently acted for 3i on a £555 million deal, banking counts the likes of Barclays, RBS, HSBC and Bank of Scotland amongst its clients, real estate is consistently busy and the firm is famous for its media and tech work.
The resurgence follows a lean period after 2000-01, when the firm's previously meteoric rise resulted in it upping its lawyer count from 300 to 400 in the course of one year. The downturn in the market caught OC by surprise and painful readjustments had to be made.
During 2002-03, 25 partners (a full quarter of the firm) either jumped ship or were managed out, and the firm embarked on a voluntary redundancy programme amongst their support staff which got rid of around forty employees. Profits dipped to an embarrassing average of £233,000 per partner.
But by 2003 the firm had, one way or another, resolved its problems and was once again iring on all cylinders. Managing partner Simon Beswick says that whilst the firm clearly cocked up by being too bullish in its staffing, its client base and deal quality remained exceptional. Now that the market has picked up the firm seems to be reaping the benefits, as testified by the resurgence in profits.
One of OC's trump cards is that its London office (which now undertakes a third of the firm's work) can outsource work to its Bristol and Thames Valley offices. These have lower costs, so the firm can turn a bigger profit: great news if you're a partner, rather less so if you're the Bristol-based assistant doing City work. Still, at least it's top-end, interesting stuff, and the firm's new salary structure for senior assistants means that you should at least be appropriately paid for it.
One of the first things Beswick did was to provide a clear structure to career progression at the firm. Mid level lawyers who've proved themselves can be promoted to associates, when they get a cash bonus, discretionary pay and a formal development programme to give them the skills they need for partnership. There's no up-or-out policy, so if you don't like the idea of sacrificing your life to the firm it's possible for you to be a long term "associate of value".
Although Bristol is now very much OC headquarters, the firm's London office continues to pull in first class work and is more and more likely to be seen on deals alongside the likes of Travers Smith, Olswang and Macfarlanes. Worldwide offices aren't the firm's strongest point - Silicon Valley, Munich and a small but fragrant outpost in Cologne - as OC prefers to rely on a network of associated offices. But then so does Slaughter and May, the most profitable firm in the City.
OC may have bitten off more than it could chew a few years ago, but it's unlikely to make the same mistake twice. Top quality work, rapidly rising profits and an open and meaningful career structure make OC one of the best firms outside the City.
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