Law firms' profits reach new heights

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The Independent Online

Seven elite law firms now pay their top lawyers more than £1m, research published today indicates. They come from a clutch of niche corporate practices and the group of elite firms that dominate the City, known as the "magic circle".

This year the top 100 firms generated £9.63bn, of which nearly £3bn is pure profit shared out among the City's top lawyers, Legal Business magazine reports.

Comparisons with similar figures for last year show that profits are up by 8.9 per cent and overall fees up by 5.7 per cent. This represents a trebling of profits in just seven years.

"It means only one thing," the Legal Business editor, Tom Freeman, said. "Law is the most amazingly profitable business to be in."

A separate report published by the Lawyer magazine today describes 2005 as a year of "recovery all round", in which partners' profits for the big four law firms of the "magic circle" rose by 13.5 per cent. The combined revenues of Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Linklaters and Freshfields, reached £3.17bn, dwarfing the rest of the UK 100.

Legal Business magazine says that there are now seven law firms who pay their top partners - lawyers who have a share of the equity of the firm's profits - more than £1m. The highest paid of these partners received £1.3m.

Alastair Dickson established Dickson Minto in 1985 when he and his fellow partner Bruce Minto jumped ship from the blue-chip firm of Dundas & Wilson.

The firm, with offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, passed the £20bn mark for private equity deals in 2001. Both founding partners have amassed tidy personal fortunes of £15m or more.

Robert MaGregor is also expected to draw £1.3m from the profits of the London law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. Mr MaGregor joined the firm from Clifford Chance last year to boost the real estate property division of the business. Canary Wharf is among his key clients.

The third £1.3m solicitor works for the firm of Slaughter and May.