The Lawyer Management: Foot Anstey

Duncan Ralph has been the commercial and financial director of Foot Anstey for four years. He was previously chairman of IQD Frequency Products.

Duncan Ralph has been the commercial and financial director of Foot Anstey for four years. He was previously chairman of IQD Frequency Products. 

What are the key elements of your role?

I am compliance officer for finance and administration (Cofa) and have board responsibility for finance, compliance and risk management. 


How has your role changed during your time here?

I started as a non-executive director and became more executive. My role is commercial and operational as we recognise that a focus on delivering strategy is what drives value and profitability. We have an entrepreneurial approach and we move quickly, which necessitates commercial judgement calls.

If you weren’t doing this, what else would you like to be doing? 

I’ve been running businesses for the past 18 years so I’m sure I would be running a business of some sort, combined with a portfolio of non-executive directorships and investments. I’m motivated by growing businesses and there’s chance to do that in the legal sector right now. 

What impact are the structural changes to the UK legal market having on your firm and role? 

Market change gives rise to opportunity. In the legal sector winners and losers are emerging from what has been a relatively stable pack; which side you are on is principally determined by whether the business has a differentiating strategy and, critically, the talent to deliver that strategy. We are committed to investment in talent and technology to maximise our offering and competitiveness; and as part of this we are reviewing our key delivery processes to ensure our clients get top value. 

What’s on your to-do list?

People, systems, profit and cash. On people, we have a number of initiatives related to talent acquisition, development and retention I play a part in. On systems, we are embarking on a major investment (a new PMS) and this is a good opportunity for us to push the boundaries on process improvements. 

On profit and cash, nothing is broken, but the greatest opportunity to improve profitability and shorten the lock-up cycle is through growth with the right clients with the right offerings, along with further improvement in financial engagement with clients. 

How important is branding in the legal profession? 

Critical, because until individual relationships are translated into the business brand the inherent value of the business is not robust.

The brand embodies a business’s culture, which is often at the heart of competitive differentiation. It is a positive for clients, who get assurance in consistency of quality, reliability and service.

What have been the key ways in which you have improved the efficiency of the firm? 

It’s all about having the right people with the right hungry attitude. Give them guidance and support with the right tools and you have a winning formula.

Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?

It would have to be Reinhold Messner – we’d have a love of mountains in common and he may be useful in allowing us to escape.

What’s your favourite part of the day?

First thing in the morning. We have great coffee here and the daily agenda is always so full-on that it’s refreshing to focus on what must be done and prioritise.

What’s the most important lesson your role has taught you? 

Clients expect value, which often translates into cost reduction, so  we have to look for the commoditised elements in almost everything we do. 

We have to apply some of the tools and principles that have transformed costs in other industries. After all, the changes all around us in the legal sector are not new, they are just new(ish) to law.

Firm Facts

Staff: 335

Partners: 54

Offices: 5

Fee-earners: 185


Revenue: £24.15m

Profit: £3.36m

Average PEP: £224,000

Equity spread: £125,000-£255,000

Planning ahead

The most pressing item on Ralph’s to-do list in the past 12 months
has been developing a three-year strategy for the firm. 

“Clients see market change as positive and many see pricing advantage for their own businesses, so by offering compelling value we win
market share,” he says.

“[The strategy we have been working on] captures all the opportunities and challenges
of the changing legal sector. We have engaged heavily with the business in the process of developing it.”

IT systems used 

Axxia migrating to Elite 3e