The Lawyer Management: Lester Aldridge
10 September 2012 | By Lucy Burton
Richard Gray is director of finance and a senior member of the management team at Lester Aldridge. He has spent much of his career involved in professional partnerships including 10 years as head of finance at Bacon & Woodrow, now part of Hewitts.
What are the key elements of your role?
First and foremost is cash, second is managing profitability and after that come all other aspects of finance.
How has your role changed during your time with the firm?
The focus on cash never changes, nor should it. When I joined the firm it had been through a period of rapid expansion. Since then our borrowings have fallen significantly, but we are now in a deep recession. Fortunately, we’ve managed our affairs so as to keep our borrowings low and our profits stable.
Keeping partners onside and managing cashflow is a continuing process. We constantly strive to improve the quality of financial information presented to partners.
What are the most significant external issues that affect your role?
The recession means our clients are less willing to pay, but all firms are going through the same experience and more people are joining us.
Our London office has grown significantly - to such an extent that last summer we relocated to Chancery Lane, which increased our footprint by 50 per cent.
I spend a lot of time looking at business proposals. We have, in recent years, branched out into new service lines, and managing the cashflow and profitability of these keeps me on my toes.
What impact are the structural changes to the legal market having on your firm and your role?
The impact on us of alternative business structures has been quite limited. Some of our business areas are what might be called ‘commoditised’, but we’ve had them for many years and we are facing the same competition as we did before. Without being complacent, we are continuing to be successful.
What’s in your in-tray?
The life of a finance director has a seasonal rhythm that includes the budgets, financial audits, half-year reviews so on. But the joy is that you can never predict from one day to the next what might land on your desk.
What have been the key ways in which you have improved the efficiency of the firm?
Finding better ways of communicating to partners and fee-earners is always a challenge. Keeping the focus on things such as cash collection, managing the lockup and time recording are perennials. We are always trying to find new ways to help partners achieve their goals.
What are the primary ways in which you source suppliers?
I tend to find that my peers, our financial advisers including accountants and bankers, and other support groups are useful in helping to find good products and services.
What problem would you most like technology to solve?
There are many technological enhancements available, but sadly they don’t always seem to work in sync. This prevents achieving that happy goal of having a single system deliver everything. I fear that we’ll always have to embrace IT piecemeal in the hope that eventually we’ll get joined-up thinking from the techno-bods.
How many people do you have in your core team and who are they?
I have just over a dozen staff in the accounts team, whose functions include credit control, cashiers and the production of management information.
We are all getting more involved in compliance issues.
What is the most important lesson your role has taught you?
Firm Facts (from UK200 2012)
Equity partners: 18
Qualified lawyers: 79
Financials (from UK200 2012)
Net profit: £4.7m
Average profit per equity partner:£165,000
”The single most pressing thing [relating to the operational side of the firm] is managing lockup, and finding a resolution to that is not going to be a short-term issue,” says Gray. “We constantly strive to find ways of improving the situation. Aside from this, the increase in the personal tax rate to 50 per cent, which arrived coincidentally with changes to the rules on pension contributions focused my mind on mitigating tax.”
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