The Lawyer Management: Keystone Law
21 January 2013 | By Lucy Burton
William Robins is a partner and chief operating officer of Keystone Law. He became COO in March 2009 and has previously worked as a solicitor at Lovells (now Hogan Lovells), Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Berwin Leighton Paisner. He is responsible for the day-to-day running of Keystone Law alongside the firm’s managing partner James Knight.
What are the key challenges in your role at the moment?
To keep the firm running smoothly and efficiently. That means ensuring lawyers’ time is not taken up by admin and that they have the tools to exceed client expectations.
Has there ever been a problem that’s surprised you?
Yes. The day before the instigation of a merger between two well-known firms, one of the niche teams within one of the merging firms was told it was no longer part of the merger. The partner leading that team was given 24 hours to find another firm for his busy practice. We met with him and expedited our recruitment and set-up process: he joined us the same day and his practice did not skip a beat.
What is your favourite part of the day?
Meeting new colleagues. As part of joining Keystone new recruits are taken through an induction and satellite office set-up programme by our solicitor support team. I then meet them to find out what further support they need.
I’ve sat in nearly 100 such meetings and every one is a pleasure. New colleagues are full of praise for the support they’ve received and admiration for how easy the move has been. It’s as if a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
How has your role changed during your time at the firm?
One of the biggest changes has been to move to outcomes-focused regulation. I was involved in a six-month project to ensure Keystone exceeded what the rules require. We were recently visited by the SRA and they were pleasantly surprised by how we’ve built compliance into our systems without impeding working efficiency.
If you weren’t a chief operating officer, what would you be?
I’d be running my own business. There’s something of the entrepreneur in all my Keystone colleagues and this is one of the reasons why I find my role so rewarding.
What problem would you most like technology to solve?
One of the great things about Keystone is that I get to ask myself this question every day and have the resources to make a solution a reality. I’m currently involved in a project to further streamline ‘client onboarding’. But my one wish is for our suppliers of anti-money laundering data be able to offer a comprehensive service to search relevant databases whether they relate to individuals or corporate entities and whether in the UK or overseas.
What is the most important lesson your role has taught you?
I’ve always had a strong belief in the power of technology to solve problems, but in recent years I’ve come to appreciate that unless allied to the right people, technology is of little help. We take this approach through our business, from our central office non fee-earning staff to our senior lawyers. Of course, when we recruit we’re looking for skill and expertise, but we never underestimate the importance of being entrepreneurial, free thinking and personable.
How do you see your role change in future?
In a growing firm, I expect my role will become more managerial. At the moment, I can get my hands dirty in structuring the tools our lawyers need. However, our team is hiring specialists in various areas and they’ll take on the day-to-day running of many of my projects. That said, I know that both our managing partner James Knight and I will continue to be involved. One of the things that sets Keystone apart is that all our tools are shaped by lawyers, not IT consultants.
What’s on your to-do list?
Growth. As the firm hires new lawyers I’m tasked with ensuring solicitor support outpaces that growth. In addition to hiring further non fee-earners we’re establishing a private cloud and continually upgrading Keyed-In, our intranet.
Who would you like to get stuck in a lift with and why?
Steve Jobs: I’d ask him how he managed to lead a huge company but remain so close to its products.
Equity partners: Two
Revenue per lawyer: £107,000
“Solicitors these days seem to get a bad press. Every day we read stories of how non-lawyers can run law firms better than lawyers and how call centers can deliver a better client experience,” says Robins. “By contrast every day I meet with impressive lawyers who provide excellent advice to clients. It’s true that technology has much to offer law firms and their clients and that the future for the profession (and we are a profession) is to work smart. Embracing the digital age should improve, and not lessen, client service.”
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