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Nigel West is a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, the new head of banking at Theodore Goddard is clearly excited about being promoted from director of structured finance. But on the other, West seems almost apologetic at being a head of department and takes pains to point out on a number of occasions that he does not regard his job in hierarchical terms.
But then West is aware that he is in an unusual position as head of banking, since he is not a lawyer.
Reactions to Theodore Goddard's decision have been interesting. Maurice Allen, head of banking and joint head of Weil Gotshal & Manges' London office, said on hearing the news, "Oh God - fantastic". While Rhodri Davies, head of banking at Pinsent Curtis, was momentarily stupefied into silence before stating, "Yes, that is a surprise".
West himself did not have any intention to join a law firm when his job as marketing director at Hill Samuel Asset Finance came to an end after Lloyds Leasing Group took over the business in 1996.
Apart from proven expertise in marketing, West had already had a long career in the asset finance side of banking.
After graduating in languages, West joined a bank as a graduate trainee. He says: "At a relatively early stage in my career I became a specialist in leasing and asset finance.
He then joined TSB in 1984 which bought up Hill Samuel Asset Finance in 1987. Lloyds purchased the business nine years later.
He says: "I saw my next role in an advisory capacity. The organisations I would normally have been looking at would have included KPMG, which I had been in detailed discussions with."
During a brief interlude between jobs, West used his time to decide what he wanted to do next by helping his wife out at her dental surgery. He assures The Lawyer this didn't mean tottering around in a tiny nurse's uniform while sticking a drill into patients wisdom teeth. "I'd like to think I made a useful contribution to the business at the time," he insists.
But in a classic case of perfect networking, West had a chat with Theodore Goddard's then managing partner Simon Stubbings whom he had previously worked with on tax issues at Hill Samuel.
Stubbings said he could see a way of using West's expertise in asset and structured finance within the firm.
West says: "The concept was sold to the partners by Simon and I duly joined the firm in the capacity of a fee earner."
He qualifies this, stating: "As a fee earner I think that people may have been under the misapprehension when I joined that I would be a marketing guy." But this wasn't the case. "My job was to go out and talk to clients, sell them the structured finance services on the basis that the firm would be remunerated for that."
While Allen applauds a non-lawyer in such a role, he warns: "There is a problem in selling the idea to partners and clients. It is easy for lawyers to have a knee-jerk reaction to this."
West says there has been no notable reaction from clients to his appointment. "It is too early to tell as I am still relatively new in the job."
He admits that his initial foray into law was something of a culture shock and that he still has much to learn from his colleagues about law.
But West argues that having been a client he knows what they want and while the 18 fee earners that make up the department can concentrate on what they do best he can take over the running of the department. "I will identify the best use of resources and where there may be a pressure point on who is working on which transaction," he explains.
Davies says: "The role of a supervisor to lawyers on a day to day basis may be difficult. I would like to see the reality of this."
But Allen sees the potential in this form of management: "Taking on a management position can be a poisoned chalice for lawyers as it doesn't necessarily mean more power and it can be stressful. Firms already have non-legal managing partners in place so there could be a trend at this level for non-lawyer management."
West says: "I hope that lawyers do not see this as threat, I would hope that they would see it more as an opportunity."
Head of banking