Claire Rowe has been chief executive of Shoosmiths since 2009. She joined the firm as a trainee solicitor in 1984 and became partner in 1990.
You took on the role of CEO at a difficult time for Shoosmiths. How have you helped turn the business around?
I took on the role in 2009, which was a difficult year for most law firms because there was less work around as a result of the recession. My priority was taking a firm grip on the finances and ensuring resources were used in the most efficient way, with greater scrutiny on profitability combined with a clearer idea of what clients valued from us. Perhaps one of the best things we did was focus on clients early through listening. We were one of the first firms to focus our business development (BD) function on client management and deploy non-legal account managers.
You joined Shoosmiths in 1984 as a trainee solicitor. How have you seen the firm, and the legal market, change since?
The firm has gone through growth phases, led by a number of entrepreneurial partners. We have scored quite a few firsts including being the first law firm to publish its income, the first large law firm to get ISO 9001, the first to have a non-lawyer as CEO and one of the first to be recognised as female-friendly. This approach ratcheted us up from being a regional player by the 1990s.
Then came further growth and investment in the early 2000s. We rode the wave of encouraging high-flyers in City firms to choose a better work-life balance which led to a wave of new talent, especially in specialist areas such as pensions, competition, commercial law, property finance and asset finance. All this saw us develop into a national practice with a commercial focus.
Do you think it’s difficult for lawyers to move from a legal to a managerial role?
It depends on your interests. I was running one of the largest departments in the firm – our dispute resolution unit – for years so had been in a largely management role for some while prior to taking the CEO role. On a personal basis, my BD role has always pivoted around the development of clients for the long term and seeing that approach through across all departments has been satisfying. However, if you’re a lawyer and what you really enjoy is the technical detail of the legal work and the satisfaction of completing that deal in the early hours, it may well be a different matter.
What advice would you give to female trainees who would like to be in managerial roles?
The same I’d give to any trainee – be organised and manage the expectations of those you work with. Take the initiative and volunteer for any opportunities in internal projects. This will help you develop broader non-legal skills in project management and BD.
What are the key challenges in your role at the moment?
To deliver growth in a difficult economic environment. I’m confident this is achievable through building strong relationships with clients and ensuring you have a good reputation because then you benefit from repeat instructions.
What’s your favourite part of the day?
First thing in the morning when the office is quiet and I have the chance to organise my thoughts.
If you weren’t a CEO/lawyer, what would you have been?
I had a fleeting interest in journalism as a student but I couldn’t put it any higher than that. I’m currently interested in all things to do with equestrianism, so perhaps running an equestrian establishment.
What’s the most important lesson your role has taught you?
Listen carefully to the ideas, thoughts and concerns of the partners and staff in your business and ensure there is regular communication of ideas.
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with and why?
Richard Susskind’s ideas chime with the way we think and he has some interesting thoughts on innovation. He spoke recently at a conference we held and I’d welcome the chance to extend the conversation.
Equity partners: 40
Net profit: £11.8m
Average profit per equity partner: £295,000
The year ahead
“It will continue to be a difficult market in the legal sector and no doubt there will be further consolidation among firms,” predicts Rowe. “At Shoosmiths we will continue to focus on people, relationships and results to drive the growth of our business throughout 2013 and beyond.
“In particular, we will be looking to ensure that our new colleagues in Edinburgh are integrated into the business so we can grow and develop that location.”