The Lawyer Management: Stuart Whittle, Weightmans
10 June 2013 | By Lucy Burton
6 June 2014
17 January 2014
4 July 2014
9 December 2013
16 September 2014
Stuart Whittle, director of operations
Stuart Whittle joined Weightmans in 1993 and became an associate in 1998. He moved into a management role in 2005, when he was promoted to the firm’s head of IT, and has been director of operations since 2010.
What are the key elements of your role?
I’m responsible for our HR, marketing, facilities, IT, projects and risk and compliance functions, reporting to the managing partner and attending board meetings. The key elements of the role are strategic at board level and, more prosaically but no less importantly, ensuring the delivery of services that support the firm and its clients.
How has your role changed during your time here?
Dramatically. I started as a trainee almost 20 years ago and spent 10 years practising law before becoming involved in IT. I ran the IT department for five years and then took over the operational role three years ago. My remit and responsibility have expanded dramatically.
If you weren’t doing this, what else would you like to be doing?
As a kid I was fascinated with space. My fantasy job would have been to be the first official British astronaut, like Major Tim. That said, I’m not brave enough to contemplate volunteering for a manned mission to Mars which, among many other reasons, would probably have ruled me out of that career option. Either that or in a band, of which I had my first taste last month at the venerable age of 42.
What impact are the structural changes to the UK legal market having on your firm and role?
It’s a continuation of the challenges of the past 10 years. Our private and public sector clients are all being squeezed and we have to work hard to ensure we deliver more for less, year-on-year.
What’s on your to-do list?
I’m looking at ways to help the firm organise itself to meet the needs of our clients in the future and devise a more systematic way of undertaking business improvement.
The next stage of our IT strategy is also keeping me busy. This is to go out into the market and look at what’s going to best suit our needs for the next five to 10 years.
What was the most pressing item you faced last year?
Examining our overall IT strategy and working on a detailed business case to put to the equity partnership for a long-term investment in our IT. The effort paid off in that we had 100 per cent approval from the equity partners to make the investment, to the extent that the partners were willing to fund a substantial part of the investment themselves.
What have been the key ways in which you have improved the efficiency of the firm?
We have a pre-lit team based in Birmingham that deals with volume matters at a relatively low margin. With a multi-disciplinary approach - and involving people in the team at all levels - over the past year we’ve made a number of small improvements that have added up to a big difference to that team and the value that it delivers to our clients.
Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?
Probably Billy Connolly. He can still make me cry with laughter and that seems like a fun way to while away the hours.
What’s the favourite part of your day?
During working hours it’s getting disparate groups of people together to deliver change in the organisation, whether through firmwide projects or smaller, team-based changes. I enjoy helping people understand where they can improve the way they work without having to spend a lot of money or wait for someone to tell them.
Beyond that, it’s getting home and having my children tell me all about their day in the disjointed and mysterious way that seven- and four-year-olds do.
What’s the most important lesson your role has taught you?
To deliver through other people.
Equity partners: 31
Revenue: £77.1m (£82m in 2012/13)
Average profit per equity partner: £275,000
Net profit: £8.5m
“As a lawyer, what I want to do
is communicate with the client, not open a word-processing application,” says Whittle. “I’d also like [technology] to deliver context-sensitive content in a non-obtrusive way. These days, the amount of information even experienced professionals need to hold in their heads to do their jobs is more than most people can deal with and there is clearly potential for IT to help present them with the information they need when they need it, even if they don’t realise they do.”
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