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It is often said that managing law firms is like herding cats.
Bevan Brittan" />It is often said that managing law firms is like herding cats. Few things prove this simile better than the recent news at Bristol-headquartered Bevan Brittan. The firms partners stopped just short of a putsch last week (as reported in The Lawyer 21 July).
Law firms, and in fact most professional services firms such as accountants or surveyors, are usually headed by a nominal boss in the shape of a chief executive, a management board or senior or managing partner. But every other equity partner is also an owner of the business and correspondingly every one of them has a very real interest, and say, in how the firm is run.
Last week, Bevans partnership decided to vote on demoting chief executive Stuart Whitfield from the top job of chief executive to the client-facing role of senior partner. The partners will also decide on whether to elect the chief operating officer, a non-lawyer, to Whitfields current post to deal with internal management issues at the firm.
In addition, there is to be a wholesale restructuring of Bevans' cumbersome management structure. Bevans currently has 33 equity partners and of those a massive 31 are involved in some sort of management or strategic function: there is the board, the operations board, the remuneration committee, the audit committee, 18 sector heads and more.
This is now to be streamlined in the interest of taking the firm forward out of the doldrums it has languished in for the past few years.
Ever since demerging from Bevan Ashford more than three years ago, Bevan Brittan has not quite lived up to expectations. Net profits and average profits per equity partner (PEP) have bounced up and down erratically over the years, with the latest 2007-08 results revealing a 37 per cent slide in net profits to 6.1m and a 23 per cent slide in PEP to 180,000 from last year - not great take-home pay for Bevans partners when compared to its rivals. The troubled firm has also recently completed redundancy consultations with its workforce, which will see at least 30 staff leave the firm.
Difficult times indeed but the great thing about law firms is that when times are difficult, each of the dozens of bosses can try to call the big boss to account to attempt to bring the firm back on track.