Olswang is set to axe 10 people from its real estate department, including five associates, as it moves to restructure the practice.
The London firm has announced that it is in consultation to make five associates redundant, while five secretarial staff in its property practice have opted to take voluntary redundancy.
Olswang said the redundancies, which account for 1.45 percent of its total fee earners, come as the result of a restructuring of the practice. The redundancies will only affect the firm's commercial real estate practice and will leave its real estate litigation practice untouched.
The 19-partner practice is headed by Tim Westhead and acts for clients including REIT Asset Management and Thornfield Properties. In total, the practice has 89 fee earners, including trainees.
The move is surprising as the firm has been known to want to focus on real estate in addition to its core media and telecom practices in recent years.
Senior partner Mark Devereux commented: "Real estate categorically remains one of our priorities. The issue is purely one of internal restructuring limited to the real estate department and will not have any further effects."
He added: "We remain committed to our people and this will not change the fundamental way we run our business. We aspire to be the pre-eminent practice for media, technology and real estate."
Externally, raising profits has been cited as a reason for the cuts. One former partner commented: "Olswang sees its property practice as very strong and counter-cyclical. It has driven their corporate group through some rough patches. The only reason I can see to cut back is to boost profits to make themselves more attractive to [U.S. alliance partner] Greenberg Traurig."
In the last five years Olswang's profits per partner have grown from £400,000 ($821,000) to £561,000 ($1.15 million) while rivals such as SJ Berwin and Berwin Leighton Paisner have seen growth from £555,000 ($1.14 million) to £782,000 ($1.6 million) and £260,000 ($534,000) to £660,000 ($1.35 million) respectively.
Real estate is one of the largest practices in Olswang, with a number of new partners joining in recent times. At the end of October the firm hired Speechly Bircham partner Richard Keczkes to head up the firm's planning and regeneration practice in its real estate group.
The group hit the headlines in the U.K. in 2003 when Olswang took on 13 partners and 38 staff from DJ Freeman in a move that split the litigation and property firm in two, with the remaining practice reforming itself as Kendall Freeman.
One partner at a rival London firm commented: "We were surprised to hear that they had reacted so quickly if it was a response to market conditions. As a firm, they have done quite a lot of bolt-ons which don't always sit right with the older generation ¿- particularly in a firm with a young culture. Perhaps they just felt the change in the markets was an opportune time for a shake up."