Major legal firm Stephenson Harwood has finalized a yer-long review that is expected to result in the axing of 20 partners in one of the toughest cuts yet made by a major UK practice. The partner cuts are intended to reverse falls in the firm’s profits which average £200,000 per partner and now lag well behind those of most comparable City rivals. The stagnant profits come despite the 15% growth in turnover to £62.5m in the firm’s last financial year.

The review was launched following the firm’s merger last year with Sinclair Roche & Temperley although SH has stressed that both sides of the practice have been affected.

Legal Week understands that a “handful” of those affected have already departed SH with staff informed last week that a further group of partners, believed to number nine, would be leaving in the coming months.

A number of partners have also left the partnership of their own accord since the merger and last year the firm confirmed that seven assistants and 20 support staff were being made redundant.

SH has previously admitted that it had asked five partners to leave the firm, but the scale of the current round of departures is unprecedented.

Although a handful of major firms, including Linklaters and Addleshaw Goddard, have admitted asking partners to leave for performance reasons, the SH review — amounting to a fifth of its partnership — is the most radical seen at a top 50 UK firm.

The move comes as SH’s veteran chief executive John Pike announced officially that he is to step down next spring after eight years in the job.

It is understood that Pike revealed his intention to give up the role to partners last April and agreed to stay in the position for a 12-month hand-over period.

Pike will be succeeded by litigation partner Sunil Ghadia, with current director of finance and administration John Ruse stepping up to the role of COO.

The firm is now concentrating its business strategy on four key international sectors: financial services, shipping, real estate and technology.

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