Baker & McKenzie: Gary Senior

Under the leadership of Gary Senior Baker & McKenzie’s London office has pulled itself out of a post-9/11 slump, but the managing partner’s aspirations don’t stop there

Baker & McKenzie: Gary Senior” />Name: Gary Senior
Firm: Baker & McKenzie
Title: Managing partner, London
Total number of fee-earners: 399 in London, 4,784 globally
Gary Senior’s CV
Education: BA Durham University BA
Work history: 1986: Associate, Bakers, London
1989: Associate, Bakers, Chicago
1992: Partner, Bakers, London
2003: Managing partner, Bakers, London

Baker & McKenzie London managing partner Gary Senior is positive about the future. Having been re-elected for a second term as managing partner, with his next three-year stint set to start in September, Senior is focusing his energies on growing the firm’s London outpost in an ever more competitive marketplace.

Unlike when he began his first term, taking over from Russell Lewin in September 2003, Senior believes Bakers is now in a good position to capitalise on its strengths.

“When I took over it was a very different market,” he says. “Profitability was suffering in all firms following the decline in M&A activity and the collapse of capital markets. There was a great boom in the late 1990s then, after 9/11 and the collapse of the stock market, firms suffered quite a bit and our profitability collapsed quite a bit.”

But since then things have picked up, with Bakers redoubling its client focus in a bid to drive profitability and revenue growth.

“During the two financial years after I took over we increased turnover by 20 per cent and average profit per equity partner by 55 per cent,” says Senior. “It’s been quite a significant recovery and we achieved it because we had the confidence to keep doing what we thought was right. There’s only so much we could do in terms of controlling costs and we didn’t cut large numbers of partners during that period.”

Senior says the firm has been best known traditionally for IP, IT, employment and pensions work, but corporate and banking have seen growth in the past three or four years.

“While we continue to be strong in some specialist practice areas, which are important and which we don’t want to lose, in London our positioning reflects how we’re perceived in practices such as corporate and banking,” he says.

According to Senior, a particular coup for Bakers was when it poached a four-man capital markets team from Norton Rose a year and a half ago. This, he says, really put the firm on the structured capital markets map.

Senior is clear that the partnership and staff are integral to success, with the firm focusing on progressing its people management and training initiatives in recent years. “We’ve always had a real commitment to training and have had a reputation for being really good at it,” he says.

Senior claims this has helped develop a culture of camaraderie at the firm. “We surveyed our staff last year and about 94 per cent were proud to be associated with Baker & McKenzie, while 92 per cent said they would recommend it as a good place to work,” he says.

So, the staff are happy and the business has recovered from the position it was in three years ago, but what about the future?”We’d like to be very clearly regarded as one of the strong upper-middle market players,” says Senior. “In many respects we’re there now, but the marketplace is very volatile and we need to continue to do the right things around our people and our clients.”

Despite the fact that Bakers was founded in Chicago in 1949, London remains the firm’s largest office by headcount.

Senior acknowledges that competition in the London marketplace is far stronger than it has ever been. “We have every type of law firm here – the majority of UK international firms with headquarters here, virtually every major US law firm trying to build here and national firms with offices here,” he says.

“There’s no other marketplace with that mix of firms. Inevitably there’ll be winners and losers and we’re very well placed and determined to succeed.”

The challenge is how a firm can distinguish itself from the competition, particularly when standards have been set so high. For Senior, Bakers’ culture of civility should give it the edge, with clients saying that what they are looking for is advisers who listen to them.

“They want law firms to really focus on the service that is provided to them, understand their challenges and be responsive,” he says. “They want law firms that really partner them and really understand the pressures they’re under.”

“We really have to differentiate ourselves and saying we’re better lawyers won’t get us there. There are many lawyers that can provide the same practice on a technical level, so it comes

Name: Gary Senior Firm: Baker & McKenzie Title: Managing partner, London Total number of fee-earners: 399 in London, 4,784 globally Gary Senior’s CV Education: BA Durham University BA Work history: 1986: Associate, Bakers, London 1989: Associate, Bakers, Chicago 1992: Partner, Bakers, London 2003: Managing partner, Bakers, London