Shaw Pittman’s London managing partner Alistair Maughan says 2003 was “a busy year, the busiest one I can remember”. On a professional level it was in many respects a nightmare that he is just coming to terms with. The recent recruitment of Nabarro Nathanson partner Andrew Smith reinforces a team that has been plundered by rival firms and which left Maughan with just one partner, as opposed to the five he had on New Year’s Day 2003.
Maughan has always been philosophical about the departures, but today he is visibly more relaxed than he was in the summer of last year. In addition to the management issues associated with the partner defections, he also had to cope with one of the biggest and most important projects of his career. On a personal level, he witnessed the birth of his second child in March, moved house in April and turned 40 in November.
The pivotal management issue was what Maughan still calls “the Lathams raid”. In April last year, the day after Shaw Pittman’s annual partners’ meeting, Maughan’s co-founding partner of the London office Andrew Moyle announced that he was leaving for Latham & Watkins. He would end up taking five associates with him. Moyle’s departure was followed by the exit of two partners to Pillsbury Winthrop and, in September, the corporate team defected to Maughan’s former firm, DLA.
Maughan is a laid-back kind of guy. Nevertheless, the period after their departures brought him as close as he is likely to come to being stressed; probably the nearest he gets to irritation is when he is still asked to talk about it a year later.
“Moyle was the only one that had significant billings. In relation to him, I’d say we didn’t actually lose any clients,” says Maughan. He would prefer not to be talking about Smith as the first lateral partner hire since the departures, and he would not have had to but for one failed hire, which cannot be discussed here, but which has since become the stuff of City legend. Since that aborted attempt he has simply been too busy.
Maughan began work on the £3bn Inland Revenue IT project known as Aspire in November 2001. Between July and October last year, he had eight lawyers working on the project, four of whom were full time. He spent two and a half months in Telford during this period, which was not ideal with a young baby back at home.
In addition, the firm completed some projects for Royal & SunAlliance and worked on some uncompleted outsourcing deals for a global pharmaceuticals company. While all this added up to a frighteningly busy period, amazingly, it meant that those remaining in the London office managed the incredible feat of boosting revenues. Despite the loss of personnel, turnover for London rose from £6.6m in 2002 to £6.8m in 2003.
Despite the difficulty in recruiting partners, Maughan did reinforce with a trio of associates. “I guess we’ve done a little raiding of our own,” he admits – which brings us back to ‘the Lathams raid’.
No matter how much he shrugs it off, Maughan cannot stop himself returning to the moment that split his office in two. “I still don’t think that [Moyle] ever explained his personal reasons why he did it, so I couldn’t really comment on those,” he says. “But we got on fine. We operated on separate tracks within the office, I suppose. I was surprised on a personal level and would have preferred it not to happen.
“The one thing I would say, in retrospect, and having done some recruitment to fill the spaces left behind after the Lathams raid, is we’ve probably got a more cohesive and stronger team as a unit now than we did at the start of the year. It’s just a feel around
“Maybe having two people that were so equally matched in terms of the size of their practices, with no strict delineation between them in terms of their roles, didn’t serve us well at that time. Not that I think I’m a particularly domineering lead partner for the London office, but there’s a clearer structure now; there’s a more cohesive team that operates as a unit.”
The raids have certainly not affected Maughan’s standing within the firm. Despite the potential embarrassment of witnessing the majority of his partners leaving right after he had delivered a speech on his ambitious plans for London growth, Maughan retains an important role in the overall management of Shaw Pittman.
He has maintained a place on the 15-man board of directors of the US firm, a place that was reaffirmed by election after a three-year spell as one of three directors that the managing partner chooses personally. Again, this is something that Maughan takes in his stride.
“I think I’m on the finance subcommittee,” he says vaguely, “but the main role of board directors is just to help formulate policy and set the direction and tone for the firm and let the managing partner and the management team get on with the day-to-day management of it.”
Management is something that Maughan admits does not come naturally, but his partners obviously think he is doing okay. In January this year, the firm’s global technology chair Trevor Nagle was promoted to become head of global strategy. Jim Alberg was chosen to chair the outsourcing/technology practice and Maughan was chosen as co-chair. “I’m not sure what the co-chair actually does,” he says in typical fashion, although he seems to have settled quietly into the upper echelons of the firm’s management.
Perhaps he just understands the way a Washington DC-based firm works. Maughan did his articles at Boodle Hatfield, qualified into the intellectual property group in 1987 and then almost immediately went off to work in Washington for three years with one of Boodle Hatfield’s US friends, Crowell & Moring. It was an experience he enjoyed and the culture of the firm left an impression on him that he recalled positively when the opportunity came to join Shaw Pittman.
Returning to the UK, he secured a job at Theodore Goddard working for David Barrett. When Barrett moved from Theodore Goddard to DLA in 1993, Maughan went with him. He was made a partner there in 1994 and remained until 1998, when Shaw Pittman came calling.
Shaw Pittman was at the time launching its London office. “They were bringing a group of people together, who were all technology and outsourcing lawyers,” says Maughan. “I knew them from the brand in the States, for being one of the US leaders and for global technology projects. It was the chance at that stage of my career to try something. It was an opportunity to take a step up in terms of the global deals we were able to gain access to.”
So Maughan and Moyle set about building the firm’s stellar reputation in London. “We had a pretty good run over five years of fairly steady growth, and maybe it was only a matter of time before someone came to cherry-pick if they wanted to start up an outsourcing practice,” says Maughan – and once again we are back to ‘the Lathams raid’. “Standing back and thinking about it, maybe it wasn’t that surprising, and we wouldn’t deny that we’d prefer it not to have happened. We liked what we had become – we’d become fairly successful,” he says.
Some were surprised that Maughan stuck it out through the hard times, but he would argue that the reasons he joined Shaw Pittman still existed, which is an opinion he emphasised to his staff. “We continued to focus on technology as a core discipline and a core strength and not to be support to the corporate practice or banking lawyers,” he recalls. “It’s the main thing we’re known for. There are other key areas, but technology outsourcing is the main thing, and it’s nice to be in one of the limelight areas within the firm.
“One thing we notice as partners – and I think the associates are picking up on it – is that Shaw Pittman thinks the London office is great, which is nice. If there was any wavering, it would be a different kettle of fish. They’ve said, almost since we’ve started, that they think the London office is one of the crown jewels.”
Since signing the Inland Revenue deal in January, Maughan has set about making sure that the London office is taking advantage of Shaw Pittman’s institutional client base, and so he has sat down to look at recruitment. This process has resulted in Smith becoming London’s first new partner since the 2003 exodus.
“Personally, I can’t believe people are still writing stories about [Smith’s appointment] ‘sparking our recovery’, when frankly, internally – and only we can see that – we’d recovered by the summer,” he insists. “As soon as people have left, the ground closes up and it’s as if they were never here. It’s just that, externally, there’s perceived to be that big hit, and I would liked to have had the time available to get back out and bring people in earlier.” And that is about as near to a rant as he gets.
Maughan is likely to continue doing deals and managing the office in the same laid-back style he always has.
London managing partner