David Bickerton, Clifford Chance
Clifford Chance London managing partner David Bickerton did more in 2015 than some magic circle bosses do in a four-year term.
Introducing agile working at Clifford Chance was always going to be a tough call, but Bickerton’s ‘slowly, slowly’ and top-down approach – encouraging partners to lead by example – means that a significant culture shift is gradually taking place at Canary Wharf.
Bickerton also led the partnership through significant changes to the firm’s lockstep, with Clifford Chance becoming the first magic circle firm to introduce superpoints in a bid to attract and retain star partners.
Operationally, a number of initiatives overseen by Bickerton led to the firm saving £6m last year – most notably subletting half its London base to Deutsche Bank and investing in a second London premises to house its back-office staff.
Each of these ‘big picture’ changes have been made while Bickerton was busy fee-earning, completing university bond financing for Cambridge, Manchester and Liverpool universities this year and advising M&G Investments on a £284m refinancing in November.
Adrian Biles, Gordon Dadds
Gordon Dadds managing partner Adrian Biles is on a mission to transform what was once a sleepy West End private client boutique into a £100m multi-disciplinary legal market giant with a law firm at its core.
And with the M&A deal-doer Biles at its helm, that rapid transformation will come sooner than you might think. Biles has so far overseen three London deals that have catapulted Gordon Dadds into the UK top 100, including the takeovers of Davenport Lyons and Jeffrey Green Russell. This year, don’t bet against seeing more deals as the firm takes full advantage of the more relaxed regulatory environment for investment into law firms.
Biles, once a lawyer at legacy Theodore Goddard, modestly claims to be merely the man who builds the “foundations and plumbing” – or in other words, creates the environment that enables Gordon Dadds’ fee earners to thrive. Some plumber.
Shirley Brookes, PwC Legal
2015 was a year of exceptional growth for PwC Legal. Its UK revenues went up by 15 per cent, resulting in it ranking as one of the UK’s top 100 law firms this year, while profits also jumped 11 per cent.
But senior partner Shirley Brookes is not letting the ABS-licensed firm rest on its laurels. Her goal is for PwC Legal’s revenues to reach £100m over the next three years, with growth of 20 per cent expected in 2015/16. To this end she is spearheading the firm’s expansion in the North as well as its investment in its cyber security, IT outsourcing and due diligence business areas.
With nine new partners joining the firm last year and an additional 75 members of staff, Brookes’ ambitious plan is already well underway.
Andrew Clinton, ASB Law
As last year’s UK 200: the Independents report underlined, firms the size of £10.5m ASB Law are battling it out in one of the toughest parts of the UK market. But ASB has a secret weapon: managing partner Andrew Clinton has been working in recent years to position ASB as a regional trailblazer. Last year the firm unveiled a strategic alliance with legal process outsourcing and technology provider NewGalexy for triaging and delivering legal services.
Most recently Clinton and his management team overhauled the firm’s remuneration policies, with bonuses now aligned to client-centric metrics as it introduces a more sales-oriented culture.
Clinton says he sees the remuneration changes as being the final piece of a much bigger jigsaw. He calls it “making our strategy real for people”. With that piece of the jigsaw now safely slotted in, it’s all about putting on growth and scaling the machine.
Libby Jackson, Herbert Smith Freehills
Ever since the full integration of Herbert Smith Freehills’ alternative legal services teams last June the global group headed by Libby Jackson has had its foot hard on the accelerator.
Jackson, previously director of Belfast, has been at the forefront of the legal market nearshore movement since 2011 – but last year was when it really took off at HSF.
Ever since the legacy firm’s merger with Australia’s Freehills in October 2012 the alternative legal service has been developing under Jackson’s guidance. The Belfast centre launched in April 2011 with just 26 staff including 19 fee-earners.
It has now grown to a total headcount in excess of 300. And as Jackson points out, last year it moved from being a way of primarily supporting work that is delivered in higher cost locations to being an indispensable global function providing a “defined process”. She adds: “This is now much more than a support function. It is a differentiator and a work winner.”
Lisa Mayhew, Berwin Leighton Paisner
Taking over from Berwin Leighton Paisner’s (BLP) longstanding managing partner Neville Eisenberg was always going to be a big ask –
but it held no fear for employment head Lisa Mayhew.
Mayhew only arrived at BLP in 2010, from Jones Day. She joined the firm’s board in 2013 and began chairing the employment and diversity group, spearheading BLP’s drive to improve its diversity statistics and putting in place a target for women to represent 30 per cent of its partnership by 2018.
Mayhew stood against corporate head David Collins, who had been involved in BLP’s management for far longer. But her relative newness at the firm did not prevent her gaining enough support to sweep to victory as BLP’s first female managing partner and one of just two women to lead top 20 UK firms.
With bags of energy and drive, Mayhew is
exactly the sort of role model and leader to drive BLP further forward.
Gideon Moore, Linklaters
Gideon Moore started 2015 as Linklaters’ banking head and ended it as global managing partner of the 450-partner firm.
The election process saw him beat five competitors for the top role, but his success was undoubtedly down to his victory elevating the profile of the firm’s banking practice, boosting its market share to 18 per cent of Linklaters’ total revenue over the past few years.
The group is one of the most imposing and profitable in the magic circle, making inroads into US finance client portfolios and making major funds, real estate finance and restructuring lateral hires last year.
Market sources are predicting Linklaters’ new ‘Gideon era’ will be one of change and collaboration, with partners dubbing him a “great leader” and “good-humoured”.
In the end it was his personality and experience that won him the top job, Linklaters’ partners have said, adding that he will make a “strong” and “decisive” leader.
Margaret Robertson, Withers
Few global firms have undergone as much global expansion as Withers in the past year and managing director Margaret Robertson has been at the helm of it all.
Since the start of 2015 headcount has grown by a third, with new offices in Tokyo, San Diego, Los Angeles and Rancho Santa Fe as well as alliances in Singapore and Melbourne.
In her role, which she has held for seven years, Withers lifer Robertson has been focused on
integrating these new recruits, many of whom have been attracted to the firm in large teams from Morrison & Foerster and legacy McKenna Long & Aldridge.
Robertson’s re-election as managing director in 2015 is testament to the role she has played in internationalising the firm as it looks to strengthen its presence in the world’s key financial centres.
Michael Ward, Gateley
For a time it looked like Irwin Mitchell would be the first UK law firm to float on the London Stock Exchange. But in the end, it was Gateley that took the lead, announcing its IPO on the Alternative Investment Market last year.
The firm’s senior partner – and now CEO of the listed company – Michael Ward played a vital role in this legal first, with the move from LLP to plc intended to differentiate Gateley in the mid-market space.
Ward was part of the team that went to pitch the listing, and was integral in encouraging both investors and partners to get onside.
And so far, so good. Since last summer Gateley has seen pre-tax profits rise 32.4 per cent and turnover grow by 11.5 per cent, setting a precedent for other firms looking to follow in its wake.
Nick West, Axiom
One of the first big lateral moves of 2016 came in January, when Mishcon de Reya hired the London general manager of alternative resourcing business Axiom. Nick West, who joined Mishcon in the purpose-built new role of chief strategy officer, helped transform Axiom’s UK profile, client base and revenue, in particular with the trailblazing use of technology.
Mishcon has now tasked West with helping the firm develop its services over the next decade as the legal market continues to transform. West is among the most passionate advocates for how these changes can improve client service.
Mishcon, in recent years, has been front and centre of delivering many of these developments.
With all of the firm’s working processes and delivery mechanisms now in his sights, and with a market-leading background in the use of technology, expect significant change at Mishcon sooner rather than later.
John Westwell, Foot Anstey
In the seven years since John Westwell took over as managing partner of Foot Anstey the South West firm has gone from strength to strength. With compound growth of 65 per cent since that time, the firm enjoyed a 16 per cent revenue rise in 2014/15 and is on track for similar growth this year.
Under Westwell’s leadership Foot Anstey is embracing all the innovations of the modern legal sector. A flexible working pilot scheme in Bristol – designed to improve work-life balance as well as cut inflexible fixed costs – is proving successful. Meanwhile, the firm is turning to external expertise, with two high-profile non-executives on board.
With plenty of lateral hires to boost growth and key clients across the UK – including recent wins TNT and the Ministry of Sound – everything points to a firm in rude health.
With Westwell in charge until 2019, expect great things.