One of the City's oldest blue blood private client practices, the past decade has seen Withers take everyone by surprise with a US merger and an international roll-out to some pretty flashy locations. The merger was intended to create the "world's first international law firm dedicated to the globally wealthy". And the firm certainly represents a significant number of the wealthiest individuals and families in Asia, Europe and the US, and has offices - amongst other places - in Milan, Geneva, Hong Kong, New York and the BVI. In the UK alone it acts for nearly a quarter of the Sunday Times Rich List. I say.
The firm has been particularly active in the last few years, chasing wealthy families to wherever they lay their hats. At the end of 2014 it formed an alliance in Australia to tap its private client market. In 2015 it went on an office-opening spree as it formed an alliance in Singapore, opened three new California offices in San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe and Los Angeles, and also set up shop in Tokyo via an affiliated firm. Which means it can comfortably boast having one of the largest private client practice in the world.
The workforce across the board has expanded, and revenues for 2015-16 hit £161 million, up 21% from £134 million in 2014-15. However despite net profit also increasing to £26 million (up 14% from £22.8 million the year before) PEP was down by 17% falling from £367,000 to £305,000. Managing Partner Margaret Robertson sought to explain by saying “our recent growth in the US, Asia and the Middle East has required a considerable investment of time and money in new hires, systems and facilities and, as a result, our average profit per partner is down".
The firm has some terribly trendy clients including Matthew Williamson, Peter Tatchell, Lulu Guinness, MaxMara. and, er, Britney Spears. Elsewhere, they service several charities of note, plus plenty of nameless Russian oligarchs and assorted very high net worth individuals, dealing with estate planning, marriages, divorces, and deaths and all the gubbins that goes with it.
Of course, Withers does other stuff too - corporate, litigation, property - but given the huge focus on private client work (which feeds plenty of work to the other departments), it's unsurprising that assistants report a "good" work-life balance. As a result, pay is not at Magic Circle levels - however rich an individual might be there is only so much you can charge for a will.
Whether the bonhomie filters down the ranks is a bone of contention, with one lawyer noting that staff are "almost arrogant and negative when it comes to helping with career progression; you are on your own". Although another says the responsibility you get is very good, in fact the level of it is "baffling". Insiders speak fondly of the people who make up the firm as a "Great bunch of colleagues", and declare it the "best private client firm by a mile". Another says the pay "isn't great", but bear in mind he's comparing it to "all the ludicrously well off clients".
Appropriately for such a thrusting outfit, it's not as fossilized as many private client firms (mentioning no names). Its London office (which we're told does not smell of wet Labrador) is a swanky glass structure in Old Bailey and it appointed the first female senior partner in the City back in 1999 when such things were largely unheard of. So that's something.
If it's trying to be a forward-looking version of the usually staid private client world, Withers certainly seems to be doing a good job of it.