5 June 2019

Forsters profiled in The Lawyer Magazine’s ‘long read’

The firm has been featured in The Lawyer Magazine’s ‘long read’ feature as part of an analysis of the firms operating in the second half of the Top 100 of UK law firms. Paul Roberts and Smita Edwards are quoted extensively and an excerpt from the article (which can be read in full here - subscription access is needed) can be found below.

“Forsters of the West End is a classic example of a firm that has no aspirations to be a UK giant and that has managed to develop and thrive without losing hold of its core values. A relative youngster in London’s legal market, its old school attitude to remuneration and financial management has played a key role in its success. The firm has seen a 133 per cent increase in revenue and a 54 per cent increase in profit per equity partner since 2010.

Over the course of the same period it has risen 29 places in The Lawyer UK 200, placing 61st last year.

What is notable is that it has seemingly been done with no particular change in strategy since it was founded in 1998. That was the year 10 partners split off from Frere Cholmeley Bischoff ahead of its impending merger with Eversheds, taking the name Forsters from John Forster, a Frere Cholmeley founding partner of the 1700s.

Since its inception, Forsters has remained focused on its core areas of private client and property. It has been approached for mergers and turned down all comers. Headcount has risen, but the firm remains housed entirely in one Mayfair townhouse, eschewing the chance to open internationally or elsewhere in the UK. The most dramatic influx of hires was the arrival of 19 private client lawyers, including four partners, from Gowling WLG in 2017. Otherwise, growth has been organic, with partners arriving in ones and twos. Forsters’ story is testament to the fact that forward motion is not always driven by radical change. Indeed, staying the course when change seems necessary can pay off.

“One of the toughest decisions we made was backing ourselves through the financial crisis of 2008/9 to be a strong real estate firm,” says Paul Roberts, the firm’s managing partner since its foundation. “We didn’t slash associate or staff numbers; our focus was on bearing the pain and protecting our people.” Indeed, The Lawyer UK 200 from those years show lawyer numbers at Forsters dropped by just two between 2008 and 2010. Likewise, Roberts says, “private client has gone in and out of fashion in the past 20 years, with firms getting rid of their teams before realising overseas wealth is an incredibly lucrative opportunity”.

Roberts and his senior partner Smita Edwards – another of the firm’s founders – cite Forsters’ commitment to a lockstep profit system as a key differentiator in the market. “It attracts people who are attracted by working together, something that is missing in many firms,” Edwards says. “When there is internal cohesion, people start to share, trust and innovate; conversely, when partners don’t feel secure of their future and how much they are going to earn, negative traits creep in. It’s bad enough trying to get clients without competing against your own partners.”

“Many of the law firm failures we have seen in recent years have come down to a lack of a sense of ownership in the partnership, with individuals ceasing to feel part of a collective,” Roberts adds. “There have been firms where we have been surprised by the state they have got themselves into.”

If the lockstep system keeps the partnership in order, financial success is built on “aggressive team targets” along with “close oversight of our profit margin”, and recruiting the right people. The firm unashamedly positions itself as a high-end offering.

“Professional success ranks very highly with us: driving our key practice areas to be recognised as leaders in the field is really what’s it’s been about since we started,” says Roberts. It is not a dramatic approach, but it is one that has worked.”

"The main thing that separates the team from the competition is that they act as one team, not just as individuals."
Chambers HNW Guide 2017
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