Lawyers are still taking home big salaries despite a dip in revenues

REVENUES at the top law firms have declined dramatically since the boom years, but senior lawyers at the UK’s top 100 firms are still taking home record salaries. According to an annual survey for Legal Business magazine, released tomorrow, combined revenue at the UK’s top law firms came in at £14.18bn in 2009-10.

That was a drop of four per cent on the previous year, and marked the first dip in annual revenues in almost two decades. A dearth of corporate transactions and a slumping property sector have taken their toll on the industry.

Magic circle legal outfit Clifford Chance still has the highest turnover, according to the survey, despite seeing a five per cent fall in income to £1.196bn. Linklaters is just behind Clifford Chance after posting 2010 revenue of £1.183bn, a nine per cent drop.

Rivals Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy also reported falling revenue figures for the year. Freshfields posted the biggest drop during the year, after income fell by 11 per cent to £1.141bn, while Allen & Overy reported a four per cent drop to £1.050bn.

Although billing levels at the UK’s top firms suffered as a result of the recession, two-thirds of the 100 law firms surveyed by Legal Business posted an increase in profits per equity partner (PEP).

Average profits distributed to equity partners – partners who have a stake in the firm – climbed by 12 per cent during the year as a result of cost-cutting, including redundancies and lower discretionary spending, the report says. Last year headcount across the UK’s top 100 law firms shrank by three per cent after 1,329 lawyers were made redundant. Roughly 47,725 lawyers are employed at the top 100 firms. The fall in headcount meant that PEP, which is net income divided amongst equity partners and is usually seen as a barometer of a law firm’s financial health, saw a sharp rise.

Slaughter and May’s corporate and M&A heavyweight partner Nigel Boardman earned the highest salary, taking home £2.3m, according to Legal Business, while the magazine reports that Alastair Dickson, founder of law firm Dickson Minto, came in at a close second place after making £2m.