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Appleby is largest offshore law firm

Bermuda’s Appleby, with 805 staff in 11 offices around the world, is the largest offshore law firm, according to the results of The Lawyer’s annual survey.

But neither Appleby, nor any of the other law firms in the Offshore Top 30 survey of the “secretive” legal market would disclose what they made in terms of revenue and profit last year.

Overall, The Lawyer said from information it did obtain, it could say offshore law firms had “a strong and in some cases exceptional year in 2011”.

Strategically, the publication said the focus for many of the bigger offshore firms last year was Asia.

“Half of the top 20 firms now have offices in Hong Kong, Singapore or mainland China, with more planned,” The Lawyer said. “This week sees Appleby announce its move into Shanghai, for instance.”

The Lawyer noted that Appleby held its number-one spot despite the Cayman firm of Maples and Calder following closely behind. Appleby’s partner and lawyer count went down, while Maples and Calder’s added lawyers. Appleby’s chairman is Peter Bubenzer and its managing partner is Michael O’Connell.

The firm has offices here, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Jersey, London, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Zurich. According to the survey, its key clients are Barclays, BP International, Hiscox, HSBC and Royal Skandia.

“In an effort to shed some light on the murky world of the market’s financial results, this year’s survey asked respondents to provide an estimate of revenue increases,” The Lawyer said. “While no firm provided turnover figures for this year, several provided guides to growth.

Among them were Bermuda’s Cox Hallett Wilkinson and Wakefield Quin, which both revealed their turnovers were largely flat compared with the previous year’s.

“Given the jurisdiction’s reliance on the insurance sector and Bermuda’s current economic woes, flat turnover is actually a pretty good result,” The Lawyer said.

“Other Caribbean islands seemed to ride out last year’s turmoil better. Forbes Hare, which has offices in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Cayman, reported growth of 27 percent, the largest increase of the offshore top 30. Cayman Islands-headquartered Solomon Harris said turnover had risen up by 16 percent.

“Campbells, which also has BVI and Cayman offices, said income had risen by five percent, while fast-growing, partner-heavy outfit Thorp Alberga confirmed that its revenue was up.

“In all, nine firms out of the 30 provided some information on revenue. Compared with other markets, particularly the UK, where disclosure of revenue and profit information is now commonplace, it is a poor result. However, it is a tiny glimmer of light into a legal market that remains highly secretive and an indication that offshore firms are managing to survive well in the current climate or at least claiming to do so.”

The Lawyer said headcounts were up, with the 18 firms that appear in both this year’s and last year’s surveys collectively having 484 partners at the end of 2010 and a total of 1,456 qualified lawyers.

Both figures rose substantially in the course of 2011. The same 18 firms reported a total of 546 partners and 1,578 qualified lawyers by the end of last year, a rise of 12.8 and 8.3 percent respectively. This means that on average each firm added 3.4 partners and 3.3 associates to its roster.

However, The Lawyer said: “Not every offshore firm was on an upwards trajectory last year.

“The gap between the sector’s largest firm Appleby and its closest rival Maples and Calder closed significantly thanks to the former’s loss of lawyers and partners and the latter’s recruitment efforts.

“Appleby saw its partnership decrease by seven, from 82 at the end of 2010 to 75 at the end of last year. Its qualified lawyer count dropped to 210 from 222, while fee-earner numbers went down to 255 from 270. Total staff numbers rose slightly, from 801 to 805.

“Maples added two partners and 10 lawyers, meaning it joins Appleby as the only offshore player with more than 200 qualified lawyers.”

The Lawyer continued: “There are also signs that Maples is opening up its equity. The equity partnership has been steady at 19 for the previous two years, but 2011 saw four partners join the ranks. That means the firm’s equity is held by 36.5 percent of the partnership still a small proportion, and still the most tightly held in the top 10, but significantly better than 31 percent in 2010.”

And it noted: “The BVI is also tipped as a jurisdiction for growth according to firms already there, thanks to its continued popularity for domiciling vehicles for Asian money.”

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Published February 21, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 21, 2012 at 8:16 am)

Appleby is largest offshore law firm

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