‘Managing associate’ pays off for Freshfields

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s ­corporate department was given a shake-up earlier this year when Mark Rawlinson took over from Tim Jones as head (The Lawyer, 31 March).

As part of his new approach ­Rawlinson invited an associate to join the practice group’s management team as chief operating officer (COO) – the first time a non-partner had held such a role.

The six-month tenure of four and a half year-PQE Richard Thexton is coming to an end and he will return to full-time fee-earning. As COO he has spent as much as two-thirds of his time in the junior management role.

His success in the position means ­Rawlinson is looking for another associate to fill the position, while for Thexton the role has proved an interesting way of ­diversifying his experience.

It is generally rare in law firms for ­associates to have the opportunity to get properly involved in the management function and to get a taste of how a department is run.

Thexton, though, has been in the thick of financial reports and corporate strategy for six months. “The access to information has been amazing,” he says.

Thexton assisted on most organisational aspects of Rawlinson’s role as corporate departmental managing partner, sat on
the monthly business management ­committee, which is made up of corporate team leaders and sector heads, and ­practically chaired the weekly team leader meetings.

“I personally found it really useful just having the associate view of things ­immediately there,” says Rawlinson, adding that Thexton has also been ­instrumental in circulating information around the department – something that was seen as vital for improving ­communication in the corporate ­department.

As part of this new approach, Thexton now forwards signed-off press releases to corporate associates. Previously they would have been sent only to partners, with associates learning their ­department’s news when they read about it in the trade press.

In addition, Thexton has been given free rein to work on several pet projects, notably on work allocation and on ­creating a formal secondments policy.

The corporate department is now ­hoping to implement a centralised electronic work allocation system – ­something that will be fully rolled out
by Thexton’s successor.

The secondments programme consists of a web-based secondments database that sets out and describes the available ­secondments to clients and international offices. It was deemed so successful that it will now be rolled out to the entire firm.

Despite apparent similarities, Thexton’s role is quite separate from Freshfields’ Associate Engagement Group, which is a body elected by associates to represent associates’ interests. Thexton, however, is an unofficial representative of corporate associates.

Thexton says he is sad about leaving the post, particularly about leaving behind projects such as his work allocation “baby”, but admits that he is looking forward to returning to fee-earning work.

The internal application process for the next corporate COO is now underway, with the ­successor associate due to be picked in the first half of this month. Thexton, for his part, will be married and on his ­honeymoon by then.

“It’s probably the only way you’ll get me to stop tinkering with the secondments wiki,” he muses.