Trowers & Hamlins
Trowers & Hamlins was traditionally a rather genteel, laces and braces outfit with a reputation for real estate, housing and public sector work. Its relatively small private client department seemed to be funded almost entirely by a handful of wealthy Middle Eastern sheiks, and it leveraged on this to make a big effort to get more out of the region and up its corporate game. For a while this led to impressive growth, but recently the firm has been having a pretty wobbly time of it.
Corporate and Real Estate (which still includes lots of housing and public sector - not very sexy but a big niche for the firm) form the lion’s share of T&H’s work: some 80% of its practice. Property takes up over a third of global revenue and the firm's four UK offices (Manchester, Birmingham, London and Exeter) are all top rated for social housing.
As far as the corporate practice is concerned, the Middle East is where it’s at. The firm has offices in Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain. It did have one in Cairo, but shut it in 2014 and left revolt-rocked Egypt. The firm does a huge amount of transport work in the Middle East and has a great deal of experience in Islamic finance. The firm’s private client team may still be small, but it’s also still successful in feeding the corporate dept.
After a torrid couple of years, there were signs turnover was beginning to recover. The firm did fairly well during the financial wobbly period of 2007/8, when despite dramatic falls in the real estate revenue at other firms, Trowers managed to grow to £77.6m. And in 2008/09, revenue jumped again by an impressive 15.3% to £89.5m. Whilst the following year saw a small drop to £89.4, the firm was still more than pulling its weight compared to its rivals.
At least it was until 2010/11, when the firm suffered a double digit drop, with revenues plunging 12% to £78.6m, pushing the firm out of the top 40. The firm blamed the difficulties in the social housing market. But its Middle East offices were also in the doldrums, following the ructions of the Arab Spring which caused the Cairo office to close. And its Saudi Arabia office was shuttered permanently in 2012 after partner defections. In the 2013/14 period its turnover dropped from £77.8m to £77.2m, though profit increased by 33% to £24.2m. Trowers was bullish about a strong rebound, but it's still a tricky time for a firm which relies so heavily on housing work and the fragile Middle East. In the 2014/15 period, turnover rose marginally to 79.4m, and in 2015/16 it rose more significantly to £85.6m, thanks almost entirely to a takeover of Devon firm Stones Solicitors, which added that firm's turnover of £5m to the pot. However profits per equity partner dropped by 8% to £310k from £336k the year before, and in 2016 it was one of a handful of firms to delay summer pay reviews and temporarily freeze pay for a few months following the Brexit vote, blaming uncertainty in the market.
To add to Trowers' woes it also came bottom in the 2015 Firm of the Year survey, which measures staff satisfaction. It has fared badly in the survey for years, routinely languishing near the bottom. In 2015 lawyers said "morale is pretty bad", with a partner adding that they presumed the windows don't open "to stop one ending it all". Another claims that "capricious decisions are commonplace as those unable to find work elsewhere seek to cement their position by knifing the more capable in the back". Oof. On the other hand, a happier lawyer said there were "a lot of genuinely wonderful people" at the firm, and a "free breakfast".
It fared much better in subsequent surveys, albeit with a noticeable influx of partners, most of whom painted a rosy picture. Others were positive, too, though, with one associate arguing that, "the bad press which this firm has had - including the Golden Turd - is I think completely undeserved". One other upside: the firm recently moved to "excellent" swanky new offices on Bunhill Row, where apparently the only downside is that the "view from the meeting rooms is somewhat spoilt by Slaughter and May".
A mixed view, then with some vouching for a, "genuine open door policy -no-one is unapproachable" and others claiming, "Politics are worse than the Russian Imperial Court".
The firm's focus may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and given the current state of the housing market and the troubles in the Middle East it's not going to be a quick path to recovery for Trowers. But if the work does float your boat then T&H may be worth serious consideration.
NB stated salaries are for London. In the regions, first year trainees receive £28,000, second years £30,000, and NQs £41,000.