Lawyer Management – Fiona Haigh, director of administration and strategy, Weil Gotshal

Fiona Haigh is the director of administration and strategy at Weil Gotshal & Manges. She joined the firm from Clifford Chance in 1998. 

How has Weil’s London office changed since you joined the firm?

The office was only two years old when I joined and in start-up mode, focusing primarily on finance, but it is now established in a wide number of practice areas. The culture of the office has also evolved gradually over time. Having our first trainee, Hannah Field-Lowes, made up to partner this year was an important milestone because internal growth is crucial. We’ve had six partners/counsel promotions in the last two years. 

One of the first things that new joiners comment on is that the size of the office -150 lawyers, 250 total staff – means that it’s easy to get to know people and that there is a very flat structure.  Everyone is encouraged to get involved, whether with our annual charity quiz a couple of weeks ago (with some great outfits for the karaoke), pro bono activities or general ideas about how things could be improved. The associate committee recently came up with a simple but effective integration idea and the support teams are following suit.

How do you decide the strategy of the London office?

Primarily by management discussions on the back of feedback from clients.  One of the biggest strategy discussions affecting London in recent years – such as the decision in 2010/11 to invest in significant lateral partner hires in key practice areas – originated at a senior European partners’ meeting before being discussed at length and then adopted by the management committee and wider firm.

The firm’s City growth slowed last year, with headcount also dropping. Are there any plans to increase those figures? If so, how?

2012 was an incredible year for London with 22 per cent revenue growth, showing that the 2011 investment strategy in restructuring, finance and funds paid off very quickly.  H1 2013 was a challenging period for deals but the strength of our finance, restructuring and litigation practices meant that we were well balanced and deals came back strongly in the second half and are continuing.  Although it is early days, 2014 is looking very positive against budget. Overall headcount numbers have been pretty static and we expect them to remain so or increase slightly this year.

What are the challenges of working at a US firm in London?

Being referred to as a US firm in London when we are essentially an English law practice in an international firm.

What’s your favourite time of day?

Taking my sons to school (although not when I’m testing them on French spellings).

What’s been your greatest career lesson?

The importance of integrity and treating people fairly, learned first-hand over many years working with Mike Francies.

What’s on your current to-do list?

Too much. At the top of the list is preparing partner candidates for the next promotion round, developing integration plans for lateral partners, space planning, client profitability analysis, the next stage of our client service training programme for support staff, and always trying to have an eye out on how to run the office more efficiently.

What is your advice to someone wanting to go into this area of work?

I think it helps in a legal support role to have the appropriate qualifications for your specialist area. We have an excellent support team at Weil and it makes a huge difference to the overall running of the office. I spent many years in the business development area and felt that having been a lawyer first helped me to understand what the lawyers wanted and gave me credibility in the early years.  In a management/operational role I would say it is even more helpful. 

If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?

Growing up, I watched far too much Inspector Morse and Crown Court on TV and decided I wanted to be either a solicitor or a police officer. I’m pleased I chose the former. I would like to be a magistrate at some stage.

Weil financials:

London revenue 2013: £73m

Global revenue 2013: $1.14bn

Headcount:

London partners 2013: 28

London lawyers 2013: 117