Herbert Smith Freehills posts 8% revenue rise to £1.19bn

‘Twin engines’ of transactional and contentious help nudge up PEP by 1% in challenging markets

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has reported record revenue, profit and profit per equity partner (PEP) for the year ended 30 April 2023, with turnover rising 8% to hit £1.19bn and PEP by 1% to £1.17m. 

Total profit at the top 10 UK firm increased by 2% to £388.2m from the £381.2m recorded last year. Meantime the rise in PEP, down from last year’s 6% gain, sees it reflect the trend of revenue growth but flat or lower partner profits seen at many of its UK rivals that have reported their results so far, including Ashurst, which grew revenue 10% to £879m but saw PEP fall 0.4% to £1.170m. 

CEO Justin D’Agostino said the firm’s “twin engines” of transactions and contentious work had kept the firm resilient in the face of challenging market conditions. 

“We have a well-hedged global business across a broad mix of geographies, sectors and practice areas,” he said. “Our financial strength allows us to invest in our people, in our clients and in our infrastructure. This includes growing our private capital, energy transition and ESG practices – areas generating significant growth for our firm.”

D’Agostino highlighted the UK and US regions, which he said had an “outstanding” year, adding that the firm had also seen good growth in EMEA. 

“Even though the markets were tough this year in Asia and Australia compared with the strength of last year, we continued to advise clients on their landmark deals and their most complex disputes,” he added. 

HSF advised on 210 M&A transactions totalling over $86bn in 2022/23 globally, reaching the top ranking in M&A league tables in Australia and Asia-Pacific while placing third in the UK and fifth in Europe for 2022. The firm noted it was the highest-placed non-US firm in Refinitiv’s rankings of global completed deals in 2022.

Highlight transactional work in FY23 included advising Australian energy company Origin on its proposed A$18.7bn acquisition by Brookfield and MidOcean Energy and acting for Jefferies and UBS on the IPO of Admiral Acquisition – the largest IPO by money raised in London so far in 2023.

In terms of disputes the firm said it was involved in a number of the largest class actions in Australia representing clients including BHP, Uber and Lendlease. The firm is also representing AerCap, the world’s largest aircraft leasing company, on its $3.5bn insurance claim for aircraft lost in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

The firm also promoted 32 lawyers to its global partnership and made 11 lateral partner hires, most of which were aligned to the firm’s Ambition 2025 strategy including in focused growth areas such as private capital, energy transition and ESG. Among them was Augusto Santoro, who joined the firm in February from Simmons & Simmons with four more lawyers to launch a private equity and capital markets practice in Italy. 

HSF said that women make up 31% of its partnership, a proportion that sees it fall short of the target it set in 2019 to reach 35% by 2023 but a step up from the 18% the firm recorded when it first set gender targets in 2014. Meantime for key partner leadership roles, women now hold 31% of the positions compared to 16% in 2014.

D’Agostino added: “I am proud of all our achievements in the face of economic headwinds and significant change and challenge in many of our markets.  

“We are still facing tough trading conditions, inflation is high and the cost of doing business continues to increase. But guided by our strategy and building on our strong momentum and resilience, we are looking forward to another successful year.” 

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