Look away, legal eagles: Revenue and staff numbers slipped at the UK's 100 largest law firms in 2016

Hayley Kirton
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Legal eagles less able to snatch up big fees this year (Source: Getty)

This year has not been kind to those with a head for all things legal, as both revenue and staff numbers dropped at the UK's 100 largest law firms.

The firms raked in a combined turnover of £20.2bn this year, a slip of two per cent compared with the £20.6bn reported last year.

Meanwhile, the number of lawyers employed by the UK's top 100 firms has also dropped to 62,214, a three per cent dip from 64,024 in 2015. This year's figure also represents the second year in a row the number of lawyers employed has fallen.

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"2016 has been a challenging year for the UK legal professional," said Mark McAteer, managing editor of Legal Business, which carried out the research. "A year that started with much promise quickly evaporated with stalling global economies and political uncertainty, particularly the UK's decision to leave the EU and the US Presidential elections."

However, this year's turnover total is somewhat skewed by two international giants, Dentons and Squire Patton Boggs, falling off Legal Business' radar, as they shifted their operations away from the UK.

Things were also looking more favourable at the top, with Magic Circle firms edging further ahead compared to the performance of their mid-tier peers.

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"2016 marks the return to form of the elite firms – Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Allen and Overy," added McAteer. "Collectively, these four firms account for £5.3bn, an increase of four per cent on 2015, and a quarter of all revenues from the top 100 firms."

It also pays to play at Slaughter & May, where top earners took home more than £3m, making it the firm with the best paid partners.

Withers ranked as the fastest growing law firm among the 100, with turnover increasing by 21 per cent to £161.5m. Meanwhile, turnover at the largest firm on the list, DLA Piper, increased by four per cent to £1.6bn.

At the other end of the scale, turnover at Olswang declined by 11 per cent to £112.5m.

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