Reshaping takes toll on profits at law firm D&W

Caryn Penley. Picture: Jane Barlow
Caryn Penley. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Dundas & Wilson, Scotland’s largest law firm by turnover, suffered steep falls in revenue and profits as its new management team continued to restructure the business amid tough trading conditions.

Profit per equity partner dropped 22 per cent to £164,000 in the year to 30 April from the previous year’s £210,000 with turnover falling more than 10 per cent to £48.7 million compared to £54.5m.

The firm, which employs 450 staff at offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and London, said that the year’s financial performance “was bound to be impacted by the tough decisions we have taken to reshape our business and to build a platform for sustainable growth”.

They stressed that it had been a “transitional year” during which Caryn Penley, pictured, and Allan Wernham were elected joint-managing partners and Laurence Ward chairman in August 2012.

The firm said early indications from steps taken to put the business on a stronger footing were “very positive”.

Although pre-tax profits fell 21 per cent from £16.2m to £12.8m, the firm said the current financial year had started well with results exceeding budgets in May and June.

It also said the firm had diversified its client base and completed a number of major deals over the past year, including the sale of national house builder Cala, advising Land Securities on Trinity Leeds – the largest shopping centre to open in western Europe this year – as well as the $1 billion refinancing of the Wood Group.

The firm’s Aberdeen office, opened 12 months ago to serve the corporate and banking markets in the North-east, had completed 18 transactions and mandates in its first year.

“Our activity levels are strong and – combined with no external bank borrowing – we have a strong platform to build our business further in the next 12 months,” said Ward.

Business wins have included securing a place on the Government Procurement Service panel for central and local government contracts and the firm has also been reappointed by Standard Life Investments and Land Securities.

In May the firm promoted ten senior associates to its partnership in the wake of a string of departures in recent months, bolstering numbers to 75 after the size of the firm’s partnership had fallen from 80 a year ago to 65 before the promotions.

“We have quietly but decisively changed shape and we can look forward with confidence,” added Ward.

Earlier this month, rival Brodies, the largest law firm in terms of turnover and partners based in Scotland, announced turnover in the year ended 30 April rose by 7.5 per cent to £46.01m. Operating profits before partner distributions were £19.3m, up 9.3 per cent. Although profit per partner figures will not be available until later in the year, it is understood these saw an increase on the previous year.