Peter Kavanagh

Gulshanah Choudhuri talks to Theodore Goddard’s Peter Kavanagh about mergers, alliances and his reasons for stepping down as managing partner.

It is perhaps appropriate that a policeman’s son should decide to practise law. That is precisely what Theodore Goddard’s former managing partner Peter Kavanagh did.

Born in Stockport, Cambridge, law graduate Kavanagh comes across as tight-lipped, defensive and, at times, a little prickly. He does not wish to talk about anything other than what he regards as strictly relevant questions.

In October 1996, Kavanagh, a corporate and mergers and acquisitions lawyer, was appointed managing partner of Theodore Goddard at the age of 38. But after only two and a half years in the top post he has decided to step down.

He explains: “This was solely due to work commitments. I had made it clear from the start that I would want to carry out my client work.”

Kavanagh says that after only six months in the top job, he felt the role was too demanding and he realised he was not able to strike a balance between fee earning and the responsibilities of managing partner.

But he decided to stay on to ensure continuity in the tripartite merger talks between Theodore Goddard, Denton Hall and Richards Butler. Such loyalty is typical of Kavanagh, who has spent 17 years – his whole career – at Theodore Goddard, starting with his articles and reaching the peak as the firm’s second-ever managing partner.

Kavanagh says Theodore Goddard thought very carefully about the merger. “We did see a number of very promising advantages and opportunities, but inevitably there were also disadvantages,” he says. “Dentons pulled out as there was a recognition by them that they would not be able to reach an acceptable position over their Hong Kong office and Richards Butler’s overseas office.”

There was a combination of reasons why the merger talks collapsed, says Kavanagh. “It was all to do with balancing issues such as client conflict, the cost of merging different systems and premises and the financial aspects of partner profitability.”

But the firm has not been put off merging in the future. Kavanagh says: “A merger is something they would most certainly look at again and we would not rule out the same firms involved previously.”

US firms are also invited to tender for future merger discussions. Kavanagh is not ruling out anything as long as it is consistent with Theodore Goddard’s strategy.

It is no surprise that Kavanagh lists accountants forming their own legal practices and US firms moving into the City as trends to watch out for. “Also the number of firms seeking alliance partners is increasing, and UK firms will have to watch closely to anticipate these changes,” he adds.

Kavanagh is not dismissive of firms forming alliances, but he warns them of the importance of maintaining client service.

He says: “Advantages can come from alliances, but the most important part of developing your business is to ensure that the quality of service you provide is such that you have a competitive edge, and clients and lawyers will be attracted to you.”

Kavanagh, however, is wary of putting too much emphasis on marketing. He is clearly client-focused and believes that being too public could damage that relationship.

“As a firm we have been poor in shouting about our own successes; equally we don’t believe clients would wish to see a law firm that they use as a marketing ploy.”
Peter Kavanagh
ex-managing partner
Theodore Goddard