The new managing partner of Manchester firm Pannone has implemented a raft of changes since taking the helm earlier this year, saying she is “the sort of person who likes a challenge”.
This is hardly surprising, given Emma Holt’s background in clinical negligence, a field she says she was drawn to for the intellectual challenge it offers.
“Cases are hard-fought,” she says. “When you achieve success it’s very satisfying.
I believe in accountability – it’s a way of keeping a profession accountable and it’s a quest for justice.”
But while she maintains an interest in medico-legal matters (retaining some client contact and also lecturing on the academic circuit), Holt is keen to point out that she is first and foremost a manager for the whole firm.
And it is that particular challenge that she has embraced most enthusiastically since taking over the position from Steven Grant, who is now senior partner, in the summer.
Holt’s achievements to date include a radical reorganisation of the firm’s internal structure; rewriting the partnership deed to include the creation of five divisions that sit over the firm’s multiple departments; and setting up a management board and a nominations and remunerations committee.
The management board is vested with executive decision-making power and, alongside Holt, comprises the heads of the five newly created divisions: Grant (corporate services alongside his senior partner role), Anthony Barnfather (dispute resolution and regulatory), Richard Scorer (serious injury), Andrew Newbury (family and private client) and Andrew Morton (commoditised work).
“I wanted to streamline the way we work,” says Holt. “There’s an obvious client benefit there.”
Pannone made 40 redundancies in the last financial year, but Holt emphasises that this latest streamlining is not about further job losses but “improving the way we work together”.
The firm’s most recent set of financial results show that there is some room for improvement. In the 2009-10 financial year turnover fell by 5 per cent to £49.5m, while average profit per equity partner (PEP) remained broadly static at £229,000 and average earnings per partner (EPP) increased by 14 per cent, from £133,000 to £151,000.
Holt’s strategic goal is to improve on this performance and “grow turnover profitably”. Pannone has diminished the ratio of equity partners to non-equity partners by 26 per cent in the past five years and retains a relatively tight equity, with a third of all partners owning stakes in the business. She says a high barrier to entry has not been created out of a desire to keep PEP artificially high, but is simply about business and client needs.
Her plan for improving profitability at the firm includes the usual watchwords of ’quality’ and ’client service’, but also contains a focus on developing certain specialisms such as energy, waste and child abduction. Clinical negligence will continue to be an important area for investment.
Holt also wants to grow the firm’s commoditised practice. Joy Kingsley, who was managing partner at Pannone for 14 years and senior partner for three before leaving to join smaller local rival JMW Solicitors earlier this year, helped secure a valuable referral relationship with Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP).
This link sees Pannone undertake volume matters resulting from a five-year contract between BLP and Thames Water.
Holt hopes to win more of this sort of legal process outsourcing work, but also to develop the firm’s online offering, which is already expressed through the mylawyer.co.uk portal. This allows clients to get a divorce over the internet.
“If you’re going to do any level of bulk work you need an e-offering,” emphasises Holt. “It’s the way things are going.”
The other big move Holt has made has been to set up a nominations and remuneration committee.
Whereas appointments were historically vetted by the entire partnership, the new committee will see five elected partners representing each of the divisions scrutinising each application prior to a partner vote.
Holt knows this is no different from what some firms are already doing, but says the system was in need of modernisation.
Pannone may look quite different by the end of her term.