Just Williams

In his first interview since taking the job with Arthur Andersen, Tony Williams tells The Lawyer that clients are thinking seriously about MDPs.

What will your title be?

I have two, actually. One is managing partner, which is a worldwide role, with responsibility for developing Andersen Legal in the key business centres, and the second one is senior partner of Andersen Legal UK.

What attracted you to the job?

One factor was how determined it was to enter the legal market at a very serious level, the top level, and how much it understood the need for that legal function to be run by senior lawyers. Secondly, there were various surveys last year showing that in-house counsel have been contemplating the use of MDPs much more than they have in the past. Also, a number of clients I've spoken to said it was something they were certainly thinking about and they've had some good experiences in the past with parts of the Andersen network. The third thing was that I've always been one to push the use of technology in the law. I do feel that the whole way in which legal services are delivered is going to change quite dramatically over the next few years. I think IT will play an important part in that. It will also be important for that advice to be effectively integrated. In other words, people will come with problems and not really care whether it's a legal or HR or whatever problem, but want it sorted. I think technology will change the way the service is delivered and the way it is priced.

Is it still Garretts' goal to become a premier league law firm?

Personally, I think it's very important that Garretts is [a leading firm], not only for its own purposes in England, but because English law is so important to the worldwide provision of legal services that it's important for Andersen Legal worldwide that it has a very strong English law capability.

Is that goal realistic?

People are always ready to knock new entrants or changes in entrants into particular markets. It's hard to imagine now, but I remember in the late 1980s and early 1990s people knocking Clifford Chance and saying we shouldn't try for the top end of the market. When Arthur Andersen was developing here in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I suspect people were telling young accountants joining it not to do so and to join other major firms. So there will always be an in-built conservatism. But the thing that has impressed me is its determination to push into the market. It's not going to happen overnight. Having managed Clifford Chance, I know how difficult it is and how difficult changing one's perception is, but I think there is sufficient change going on in the client end of the market to create opportunities for new players.

What is Garretts' strategy?

Obviously, having only just been appointed, to roll out a strategy would be a bit premature, I think. But there is only a limited range of options in reality. You've got to recruit and retain good quality people and there are some very good quality people within Garretts already but you've got to recruit more at all levels.

Is part of that strategy a merger with a major City firm?

To say it's a definite part of the strategy is over-egging it. It's not something I would rule out, but I don't think the strategy is necessarily dependent on that. I will certainly look at the market generally, as I did when I was at Clifford Chance, but I'm not saying that the only way that Garretts can develop is by doing a merger.

There are issues of how one builds a credible and deep practice quickly. At Clifford Chance, we used a number of methods ranging from organic growth, to laterally hiring teams, to full mergers. I think you've got to look at the range of those and look at the opportunities available and look at what is doable within what time frame. And you've always got to ask yourself with any of these options, 'does that push us forwards in our ambitions?' There are some mergers I can think of where I'd spend more time trying to make the merger work than actually driving the business forward. I'm not ruling in or ruling out anything, but I'm not going to go out into the market and say we definitely need a merger, because you only definitely need a merger with a firm that's right.

Arthur Andersen has attracted some highly impressive legal partners abroad. Why has it struggled to find such a partner in London?

One reason is a growing acceptance among European firms that the go-it-alone option is, if you like, less appealing as more international firms get more active and, as a result, they've been looking at credible options that give them a lot as well. To that extent, I think what Arthur Andersen has been offering has been very attractive to them. I think in the UK the firms have tended to be larger and more fiercely guarding their independence. To some extent, the middle and the top end of the market are probably deeper markets in London.

Isn't your appointment a tacit admission that Arthur Andersen's original strategy was wrong?

The honest answer is that you have got to start somewhere. You start building and you gain a lot of experience from seeing what you can do and what is more difficult to do. I think that is something that Andersens has very much done. There aren't very many partners or certainly former managing partners from big five firms who come on the market. So even if it had been out shopping two or three years ago, I don't suppose there would have been very many available. There is a very small pool of people available and the legal profession is very, very conservative.

Did Arthur Andersen misread the UK legal services market?

I think there was a belief that legal services were much more similar to some of its other services than is in fact the case. In a way, I think there are a lot of similarities. But I think the way in which lawyers perceive themselves is very different. And there's a bit of growing up on the lawyer's side as well.

Given lawyers' scepticism about Garretts, how can you hope to succeed?

I think that the whole way in which legal services have been provided in the past will change, because I think clients will demand that change. There will be completely different pricing models and there will be different service delivery models. There will be a lot more on-line services. There will be a lot more package services. Lawyers may not like the idea of that, but that's the reality and you can see it in virtually every field of service that is provided these days. I don't see why law should be fundamentally different in that. Lawyers will huff and puff but the reality is changing. The other thing is that I would hope that the determination that Andersens is showing – and in part my appointment – will start to draw a line under some of the knocking copy that has been provided over the last two years on the Wilde Sapte thing, which was clearly not a great event, but these things happen.