THESE are interesting times for the City’s law firms. The coming years promise massive changes, and the firms that make our shortlist are those which are positioning themselves to take advantage of the opportunities. Whether it’s looking at promising practice-areas, merging or looking towards the new markets, law firms are prepared.

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Generally considered to have had the best downturn of any of the Magic Circle firms, Freshfields is the only City law firm to have increased its corporate revenue since 2007. Profit per partner still remained at the stratospheric level of £1.4m. The firm was also instructed to advise BP?in the case of a hostile takeover bid this year – a blow to rival Linklaters, which has represented the oil giant for decades – and which could net Freshfields tens of millions.


While many law firms were shedding people and worse in the aftermath of the downturn, Hogan Lovells took the opportunity to expand and secure itself for the future by merging with US?firm Hartson. The new firm will have a good Asian business courtesy of its British wing, and will also allow it to capitalise on the profitable American market. A brave move, and a credit to the forward-looking attitude of managing partner David Harris.


A merger with Australian firm Deakins showed that Norton Rose means business in the Asia-Pacific region. Added to that, the firm reacted to the downturn with a flexible working, reduced-hours scheme that saved jobs and the costs of re-hiring to fill posts that many firms are facing now. When you also consider its work advising on the BA/Iberia merger, you could argue that this was the year that Norton Rose moved into the big time.


The bluest of the city’s blue-blooded firms, Slaughters is still the City law firm with the most LSE-listed clients – and still the only one with more than 100. It is still the go-to firm for the biggest listed companies, representing a whacking 27 of the FTSE 100 and 44 of the 250. And it seems to have been barely slowed by the financial crisis – already this year with its European “friends” it has completed 64 M&As this year. Others might rise and fall, merge and move into new practice-areas, but Slaughters just marches on.


Singled out for being “all over the regulatory work” by a nominee, largely down to the work of Tony Woodcock, head of the regulatory litigation group and described by Chambers as the “counsel of choice” on the area. But the firm’s expertise is wider than that, reaching back to the Guinness and Barings investigations and, most recently, to Northern Rock, while it also acted in the high-profile insider dealing case involving Cazenove partner Malcolm Calvert. Over the past five years, it has had the fastest-rising profitability of any UK law firm.