When Mark Dawkins became managing partner of Simmons & Simmons at the beginning of 2005, the firm’s financial outlook was far from rosy. Average profit per equity partner (PEP) was languishing somewhere around the £350,000 mark, while the previous 12 months had seen 12 per cent of the partnership de-equitised in an attempt to stem a three-year profit slide.
So it is with understandable pride that Dawkins reports on the firm’s growth over the last six months. Dawkins also recently revealed a healthy 11.5 per cent rise in Simmons’ PEP for 2006-07, taking it well over the £500,000 mark for the first time.
Unfortunately, other firms have stolen Simmons’ thunder: Ashurst overtook Simmons thanks to a 28.5 per cent jump in turnover and an astounding 36 per cent rise in PEP during the last financial year, knocking Simmons out of the ranks of the UK’s top 10 firms.
It seems an 11.5 per cent rise in PEP just does not cut it in the current bullish market, and Dawkins knows it. He said as early as January 2007 that he would be targeting a PEP of £600,000 for the 2007-08 financial year, which would require another 12 per cent jump over the coming 10 months.
And it does not stop there. “I’d like to go beyond that,” he says. “You need to look at the three-year picture – £600,000 is a big leap, but not really in this marketplace. It’s basically half what the magic circle partners earn. And it’s hard to maintain a competitive edge when it’s put like that.”
Simmons’ executive committee is currently in discussions over what the firm’s three-year target should be. Although Dawkins is not ready to release a concrete figure, he says it will be “ambitious”.
With some managing partners you can take go-getting future plans with no more than a pinch of salt. But Dawkins does seem to deliver. At the beginning of the year he announced that 2007 would be one of European growth for Simmons, and within three months the firm had opened an Amsterdam office and had merged with Spanish boutique Mochales & Palacios.
So there is no doubt that, beneath Dawkins’ calm demeanour, there is a steely nerve that gets things done. The plan for reaching a lofty three-year PEP goes beyond de-equitisations, which still remain “a tool”, albeit a short-term one. Instead Dawkins will look at how the firm’s four major sector groups can capitalise on key clients.
“We’ll be looking for where there’s the most scope for revenue growth, which hasn’t been as effective as it might have been in the last few years,” he explains. “We need to be quicker and smarter in accepting instructions.
“You want to get some new mandates, but it’s mostly about broadening narrow mandates that we already have. It’s always easier to win work from existing clients than it is to go out and win new clients.”
So far the firm’s financial institutions group, led by partner Jeremy Hoyland, is setting the bar high for this strategy. The group reported more than a 20 per cent increase in revenue on last year’s, contributing more than a third of the firm’s total turnover. This growth is attributed to scoring broader mandates from existing clients such as BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs.
Dawkins leads Simmons with senior partner David Dickinson, who formerly held the managing partner position for six years after heading the banking and capital markets team. Dawkins says they “sympathetically challenge one another”.
The two men have long held concurrent leadership positions at Simmons: while Dickinson was managing partner, Dawkins led the financial markets sector group.
“We fundamentally want the same things for the firm,” says Dawkins. “It’s very valuable when both of you want the same thing.”
Like senior partner David Gold at Herbert Smith and managing partner Simon Bromwich at Ashurst, Dawkins is heading a City firm and from litigation background. According to Dawkins, who has been at Simmons throughout his professional career, it is because of his litigation training that he enjoys his position.
“Actually I think litigators make good managers. We’re jacks of all trades,” he says. “We work out commercial problems for clients, and often those would be big clients like banks, so there might be accounting issues, people problems – it’s all good experience for running a business.
“You need to be a good communicator as a litigator, which is very good for management.” He hesitates before adding: “But maybe I should have done some special training?”
Listening to the applause he received at The Lawyer Awards 2007 on 26 June on receiving the Management Team of the Year Award, that seems
Name: Mark Dawkins
Firm: Simmons & Simmons
Title: Managing partner
Firm turnover: £250.4m
Total number of lawyers: 842
Number of fee-earners 1,029
Mark Dawkins’ CV
Education: 1978-81: Law, Exeter University
Work history: 1983: Joined Simmons 1985: Qualified 1990: Promoted to partner 1997: Appointed head of litigation 2000: Appointed head of financial markets sector group 2005: Appointed managing partner