Mixed bag as Watson Burton unveils last year's final-quarter data

ONE of the North East’s largest law firms, Watson Burton, has seen income fall but profits rise over the past year.

ONE of the North East’s largest law firms, Watson Burton, has seen income fall but profits rise over the past year.

The 200-year-old Newcastle firm, which has offices in Leeds and London, said fee income dropped to £12.1m for the year to the end of April 2012 but profits rose from £1.2m to £1.4m.

The just-published figures show a turnaround after falling profits for the last couple of years in what has been a difficult time for law firms.

Its income dropped 40% in 2009/10 to £14.1m from £23m.

The firm saw a further reduction in staff from 140 to 123 in the period, including a fall in the number of fee-earners from 52 to 48. The company employs nearly 140 fewer people than it did in 2009.

However, its cash performance was good and its spending was less, leaving it with net debts on May 1 of £1.2m rather than £1.5m.

Patrick Harwood, chief executive of Watson Burton, said: “In what continues to be a difficult climate for professional services, we are extremely pleased with our financial performance for FY12.

“The results are reflective of our longer-range strategy to build and maintain a stable, progressive business and are fair in the context of the wider economy. The figures demonstrate that Watson Burton is a firm that is moving forward strongly, showing a 16% increase in profit compared to the previous year.

“We have a very clear sense of our growing position within the national marketplace and achievements such as this fill us with confidence as we near the beginning of the next financial year.”

Watson Burton published its 2012 results later than other big law firms.

The region’s largest firm, Newcastle- based Dickinson Dees – shortly to merge with Bristol firm Bond Pearce – says it was lifted by a slight recovery in the region’s economy to report a 2.4% rise in turnover for the year to the end of April to £46.1m and a 10% jump in profit to £12.1m.

City rival Ward Hadaway saw figures for the same period grow by 6% to £30m with profit rising by 9% to a record £9m.

And the smaller Muckle LLP reported it had driven income up 15% to £10.46m from £9.4m a year earlier, despite a tough market for deals.

Its private client work rose by more than half in the period, as did its staff numbers, to 145.


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