8 March 1999
Steven Blakeley is famous in his firm for his habit of writing to the various managers of Blackburn Rovers to interrogate them about team tactics.
However, this all came to an abrupt halt when Kenny Dalglish took over. It was thought the Glaswegian was too big a match for the managing partner of Wilde Sapte. Blakeley says Dalglish was a manager who knew what he was doing.
The football-mad Blakeley is clearly in a belligerent mood. "We are regarded as the Wimbledon football club of the legal market," he says, "Wilde Sapte is seen as an irritant among the big five City firms. We win business that they should win, we win market share that they should win."
Despite this confidence, Blakeley is sensitive to criticism of his firm, particularly from the press. He says the press has a habit of linking firms with incidents that have happened in the past, and then referring back to them every time something new is reported.
So what exactly were the consequences of last year's failed merger with Arthur Andersen then?
Blakeley says that Wilde Sapte stuck its head above the parapet and exposed itself. "Wilde Sapte is more than a name to be referred to as the firm that failed to merge with Arthur Andersen," he says. "It gave the press a chance to label us as having an uncertain future."
Blakeley's management of the firm after the debacle has drawn praise from various quarters. PricewaterhouseCooper's head of legal, Paul Downing, says that he did a good job during a very difficult period, while others have praised his no-nonsense approach to getting down to business.
Though a Lancastrian by birth, he was brought up in Essex and inherited his accent from his parents. He qualified in 1980 and joined City firm, Oppenheimers. He became a partner in 1985 at the age of 29 and joined Wilde Sapte three years later to build on his corporate and banking skills. He was appointed managing partner in 1994.
Blakeley says the last nine months have caused apprehension and uncertainty. "We know we are doing much more than the rest, but market perception tends to lag behind reality."
He claims that uncertainty is affecting all firms "as the legal market is globalising and is consolidating", and that most are still not anticipating what is happening in the marketplace. They need, he says, to be more forward-looking and pre-emptive.
Blakeley wants to see results before his time as managing partner is up. He says that nine months after the merger debacle, Wilde Sapte has performed well financially and exceeded its budget profitability. But his next task must be to find a merger partner.
The firm is known to have been in discussions with a number of law firms recently. It was rumoured to be in talks with Herbert Smith at one point, though Herberts strenuously denied this.
Blakeley acknowledges that at some stage the firm needs to merge. "Merger is never a strategy, but it is a means of getting somewhere," he says. "Our strategy is to be part of one of the international global law firms, and we can't achieve it by organic growth," he says.
To get through this next stage, he might want to enlist the advice of the one sporting manager he does respect.