The Lawyer Management: Brabners Chaffe Street
27 February 2012 | By Matt Byrne
Janet Pickavance is chief executive of North West corporate and property firm Brabners Chaffe Street. Pickavance has been with Brabners for almost 25 years and has overseen its growth from 47 employees to a workforce of nearly 400.
What does your role involve?
I work alongside managing partner Mark Brandwood on the day-to-day management of the firm. I’m responsible for the core functions of finance, HR, marketing, IT, risk and facilities. This allows the managing partner to retain a limited fee-earning role and keep in contact with key clients.
The other key part of my role is as a member of the management board that is responsible for the strategic planning and direction of the firm. I set the agenda for meetings.
How many people do you have in your team?
Six – the directors who head up the core functions of the firm.
What’s in your in-tray?
We’re putting risk management at the top of our agenda. It’s one of the most challenging and costly issues for firms to address. We’re also considering a rebranding exercise, which has more to do with simplifying our name than repositioning ourselves in the market. Until it can be ratified I can’t say anything further on it.
There are also internal issues in relation to partner rewards. It’s a process of evolution to ensure that the rewards system recognises the delivery of the behaviours we want.
There are also some IT issues to be resolved.
There are elements of the software suite we bought that don’t work to our requirements, particularly with regard to document management. We’re working with our suppliers to try to deliver a workable system.
What are the most significant external issues that affect your role?
The introduction of outcomes-focused regulation means we’re adapting our approach to compliance. And the economy has an impact, as managing in a recession requires different qualities.
It was the restructure of our management team and the change in managing partner from Michael Brabner to Mark Brandwood in 2009.
What did that involve?
Adapting to a new individual with a different working style is an important transition in such a close working relationship.
What are the key ways in which you have improved efficiency?
Our strength is that we operate on lean structures. Control of overheads has always put our profitability levels well up in the legal league tables. Keeping control of those costs will remain a big challenge. The best way to improve efficiency is to instil in every member how vital it is to the success of the firm.
How do you achieve that?
Processes only take you so far. The key is communication to increase awareness and willingness from every individual to play their part.
What impact are changes in the legal market (ABSs, external investment etc) having on your firm and your role, or what impact do you anticipate them having?
Very little. We don’t operate in the ‘commodities’ market – our private client services tend to be sophisticated, for high net-worth individuals – nor do we do volume work for institutional clients/insurers. We’re fortunate not to need external investment at this stage. However, you can never be complacent.
What’s the most important lesson your role has taught you?
It’s a lot easier to achieve objectives if you have the support of colleagues, so the delivery of the message is vital. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.
Earnings per partner:£164,000
Profit per equity partner:£250,000
Top of equity:£280,000
Bottom of equity:£100,000
Brabners’ lockup looked slightly on the long side last year for a firm that is not heavily reliant on insurance litigation.
Average WIP last year was 90 days – the same as the debtor days figure at year-end.
Pickavance will no doubt be hoping that the culture of awareness of the impact of costs across the business she refers to above will be reflected in tighter cashflow management throughout the firm in the current year.
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