Steve Rowan, deputy chief operating officer (Europe & Asia)
The Lawyer Management: Edwards Wildman
12 November 2012 | By Lucy Burton
Steve Rowan has been deputy chief operating officer for Edwards Wildman’s Europe and Asia offices since 2011. Prior to this he was director of finance and administration at Kendall Freeman, which merged with Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge in 2008.
What are the key elements of your role?
I aim to keep all the administrative trains running on time so that we run the business efficiently. A lot of the role as I see it is making sure things get done and, if possible, before they need to get done. I try to be pro-active and to think laterally as the industry has changed so much and continues to change.
How has your role changed during your time at the firm?
Having gone through two mergers, including the first, in 2008, which moved the firm onto an international platform and more recently a merger in the US, so I have been heavily involved in change management at the firm.
Outside the US, we have been engaged in dealing with significant expansion in the UK. I’m also involved in the firm’s initiatives in Asia. As a result, my role has changed and whilst I continue to look after the non-US related functions, I’ve been taking on more US and all-firm responsibilities, such as our insurance policies.
What impact are the structural changes to the UK legal market having on your firm and role?
I now have the role of compliance officer for financial administration (CoFA) and of course, we became an LLP in the UK about five years ago. The SRA’s formalisation of the CoFA role is mainly, for me, a recognition of existing responsibilities in managing client affairs.
What’s in your in-tray?
A whole variety of things including 2013 budget submissions, Asian business plans, insurance renewals and various strategic initiative plans… and my maps of the Alps and Pyrenees sections of the 2013 Tour de France. Cycling the mountain passes provides quality thinking time.
What was the most pressing item you faced on the operational side of the firm last year?
The London office headcount has grown substantially, particularly with a large influx of laterals since we moved to these premises in 2010. As a result, we’re always checking not only that they are settling in well but also how much office space we have left. We have enough space for now, but we have to continue being efficient with the space we’ve got.
What have been the key ways in which you have improved the efficiency of the firm?
The firm encourages communication between lawyers and staff, so I spend a lot of time connecting people within the office and between offices to achieve this. The strategy has been particularly relevant in helping laterals settle into the firm and in integrating our growing Asian practice.
What are the primary ways in which you source various suppliers to the business?
When contracts need to be reviewed, we typically ask selected potential suppliers to tender. I ask our support managers and functions to do this, rather than hiring external consultants, as it’s good experience and we tend to have a more immediate understanding of our business needs.
Sometimes we will look for some external assistance as an extra eye over the process.
What problem would you most like technology to solve?
Avoiding jet lag when travelling between our offices. But I think this solution may be beyond even Bill Gates.
Who do you report to?
Judy Hurley, our chief operating officer.
What is the most important lesson your role has taught you?
Active engaged communication is the best way to achieve results. Poor communication makes everything so much more difficult.
Turnover: $352.7m (£221.5m)
Average profit per partner: $735,000
Revenue per lawyer: $603,000
Partners : 250
Staff : 1,181
Lawyers : 637
Offices : 14
A fitter competitor
How to boost profitability, expand international footprint and become more competitive is a question Rowan is expected to answer, a question that inevitably becomes more challenging during belt-tightening times.
“Like most people in the role that I have, the most significant external challenge in recent years - and which is a permanent challenge - has been to help position the firm so that it can become more competitive and profitable in these very difficult economic times,” he says.