The Lawyer Management: Field Fisher Waterhouse

Charlie Keeling is Field Fisher Waterhouse’s (FFW) first-ever chief operating officer (COO). He was appointed last year to oversee the firm’s business services and support functions, having joined FFW in 2008 as HR ­director from IT and consulting company BearingPoint. He previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a change management consultant.


What are your core responsibilities?

To work closely with the managing partner [Matthew Lohn] on the day-to-day management of the firm. That includes taking responsibility for all business support functions except ­finance. The heads of seven departments including IT, HR, marketing and business development report to me. Previously they would have ­reported to the managing partner, with the consequence that the leader of each function got very little time with the managing partner.

Which board/s do you sit on?

I sit on the management board.

What’s in your in-tray?

We have a number of special projects on at the moment, including the constitutional review, for which we’re ­finalising governance changes. We’re assessing our property needs and ­reviewing the structure of our partnership, looking at things such as whether there should be more partners in the equity. We’re rolling out a change agenda: we needed to because this is a very different firm from even six years ago. In relation to partnership and remuneration ­restructuring we’ve presented ­proposals to the partners and got the thumbs-up for what will be a more transparent structure based on ­balanced scorecard principles.

How many people do you have in your core team?

The seven directors that head the support functions and my PA.

What are the most significant external or internal issues that have an impact on your role?

There are new regulations from May under the Solicitors Regulation ­Authority that say all firms are required to have a chief of legal process. Compliance and risk-related issues are generally much higher up the agenda at law firms now than they used to be. We’re also looking at our archiving and destruction policies. It’s a thorny issue – there’s a requirement to keep certain documents and a cost ­attached to this. We have a ’Swat’ team – we call it that to make
it sound more exciting than it is – ­working with our risk partner Stephen Gibbs to decide the cut-off time for keeping documents. Most firms don’t have a destruction date but the cost of keeping all documents can be as much as £1m a year.

What are the key ways in which you hope to improve the efficiency of your firm?

A lot of mid-tier firms are not using all the functionality available to them in relation to their core processes, such as opening matters and doing money-laundering, conflict or credit checks. The system we use maps all these processes electronically. We’re also looking at the possibility of ­outsourcing elements of our IT.

Firm facts

  • Partners
  • Equity partners
  • Lawyers
  • Offices


Turnover: £94m
Earnings per partner: £275,000
Profit per equity partner: £510,000
Top of equity: £658,000
Bottom of equity: £206,000
Cost per lawyer: £203,000

Financial management: In August 2011 FFW launched a constitutional review to revamp its members’ agreement and reflect its growing European footprint. This included the size of the management board and whether it should include non-executives. The firm operates a modified lockstep remuneration system, with profit allocations being set by a committee that decides on the allocation of points every two years. Average WIP at the end of the 2010-11 financial year was
20.3 days while average debtor days stood at 72.7. The firm’s annual lockup target is 110 days. Last year it took in excess of 12 months to distribute all the prior year’s profits to partners.


Elite: finance
Worksite: document management
Interaction: client relationship management
Integration Builder: new client and matter processing