James Muir, director of finance
The Lawyer Management: Pannone
7 May 2012 | Updated: 8 May 2012 11:20 am
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A former partner in chartered accountancy firm Wylie & Bisset, Muir joined Pannone in April 2011 from construction consultancy Davis Langdon, where he was global finance director.
What are the key elements of your role?
As a relatively new finance director (FD) charged with bringing a strategic focus to my role, I have a wide remit. I’m involved in setting the performance metrics for partners and fee-earners, and I work closely with the managing partner in developing the firm’s strategy and assessing investment opportunities and resolving competing priorities.
I’m also involved in assisting divisional and group heads with the performance management of their practice areas. I’ve focused the finance team on delivering value, particularly through the use of meaningful analysis rather than overloading the business with data.
What have been the key ways in which you have improved the efficiency of your firm?
Coming from a non-law background, I was able to bring a different perspective to the firm, particularly around the concept of ‘culture of discipline’.
In the year prior to coming to Pannone, I worked with a global US firm and benefited greatly from experiencing its attitude to discipline and ‘getting things done’. We’ve focused much more on utilisation and realisation and have started to shift mindset away from chargeable and non-chargeable time towards thinking of productive time charged to clients and productive time invested in growing the business.
What’s in your in-tray?
Workstream in connection with introducing a corporate member into the firm which will allow us to continue to grow our balance sheet to support long-term investment.
We’re also well through our 2012-13 business planning process, which has been the most rigorous Pannone has undertaken. We’ve aligned the partner plans with those of the groups and divisions, and all of them have been driven by the firm’s strategic direction.
What was the most pressing item you faced relating to the running of the firm last year and how did you resolve it?
The firm had a funding renewal due a couple of months after I joined and the policy had always been to renew facilities on an annually renewable basis. We reviewed the firm’s medium-term need and undertook a competitive funding process to ensure we delivered the required funding package at the most competitive rate.
We worked with our existing banks and the other competing funders to develop a mixed package that provided a balanced structure and, as a result, we secured a three-year funding deal. This provided us with guaranteed funding to support the firm’s strategic agenda. This process took a bit longer to complete and required a greater time commitment to engage with a number of funders, but as a result we’ve developed a strong working relationship with our bank.
What impact, if any, are the structural changes to the UK legal market having on your
firm and your role?
The changes are possibly the most significant the profession has faced and there has been a lot of talk about the perfect storm: the combination of regulatory change, new market entrants and exceptionally challenging market conditions.
However, I recently heard this more accurately described as ‘climate change that’s here to stay’. Pannone sees both opportunity and threat and this provides a great platform for the FD role to be at the centre of strategic drive. Consolidation could lead to a smaller number of larger firms in certain practice areas. Margins will continue to be challenged and even the largest practices will have to consider how they can refine, and lower the cost of, some aspects of legal and business process, be that through the use of technology or concepts such as north-shoring.
How many people do you have in your core team and who are they?
Overall, there’s a team of 32. I have a very close working relationship with my financial controller – this is a key relationship in ensuring that the team is aligned with the strategic needs of the firm.
Which board/s do you sit on?
The management board.
Earnings per partner:£117,000
Profit per equity partner: £208,000
Top of equity:£307,000
Bottom of equity:£113,000
“We’ve introduced more transparency and overhauled the management information so that it’s a support tool outlining the direction of travel towards meeting strategic goals,” says Muir. “We’ve moved away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach and worked with different parts of the business to develop tools that help partners understand the movements within their practice areas.”
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