Selling a Law Firm – What’s it Worth?
in Employers, Law Firm Sales

Selling a Law Firm – What’s it Worth?

There have been a flurry of interested partners of law firms looking to sell up, whether through retirement, weariness, cash flow issues possibly, or just generally feeling that their business has taken its course and looking to move on to pastures new. We get a lot of calls into our offices asking what the practice is worth, and I thought this might make a good article for others to read.

Factors for Sale Prices

We will usually ask for the turnover of the practice, the rough location, the claims history, the price paid for their professional indemnity insurance, the areas of law covered, whether the practice is on lender panels if the work is conveyancing, whether they have CQS or LEXCEL accreditations and also what the partners’ plans are for the future – instant retirement and run away, staying with the practice short term or medium term, or looking to stay on as a consultant or fee earner going forwards.

We then use this to give the potential seller an idea of deals we have experienced at similar sized firms in order to give the practices an idea of the types of value they could be looking at.

Rule of Thumb

As of March 2021 there is a very rough rule of thumb that can be applied to a substantial number of the law firms that are coming up for sale through us.

Simply halve the last year’s turnover.

I cannot emphasise how rough this is, because there are so many other factors in play, but nevertheless it is as good as we can get it and probably more accurate than a good number of other formulae you can see online.

So if your practice is a CQS conveyancing firm, on most lender panels, good claims history (i.e. no claims), and partners willing to stop on in the short term either as consultants or fee earners with a turnover of £400k, then as a starting point you’re probably looking at a sale price in total of about £200,000.

It is not necessarily the case that you would get that £200,000 all paid upfront to you, and it is possible the buyers will try and negotiate a hard path down to making some or most of this dependent on future events. The rough rule of thumb applies to the total value, and whether or not your deal is cash paid on the date of completion or some cash paid on date of completion plus future payments, we would expect the price to be somewhere around that figure of 50% of last year’s turnover.

The Evidence for the Rule of Thumb?

There is no science to this, no economic justification, no factors and percentages of profits, this simply seems to be the sort of value we are currently seeing when deals occur.

Back in the Day

We were speaking to a potential buyer today who indicated that she had sold a practice back in 2019 with a turnover of £270,000 and managed to get a cash price of £100,000 for it. I don’t know what the circumstances of that sale were but that would mirror our own experiences of the market not being particularly busy in 2019, which seem to be in part affected by Brexit, but hotting up since then into its current state of a reasonable number of enthusiastic buyers, both large and small, looking to buy practices and to pay a cash sum for them.

Value to Every Firm

There is a value to virtually every practice that goes up for sale, although if your turnover was £10,000, your professional indemnity was £20,000 and you have had five claims in the last six months, your value is going to be close to or less than zero!

For a list of questions to prepare responses to for selling a law firm, please visit:
https://www.ten-percent.co.uk/questions-to-ask-yourself-when-preparing-for-the-sale-of-a-law-firm/

For our current list of law firms for sale please visit www.jonathanfagan.co.uk

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.ten-percent.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk