The Lawyer Management: Harper Macleod

Martin Darroch, a chartered accountant and former finance director at Harper Macleod, has been the firm’s CEO since 2006. He is based at the firm’s head office in Glasgow and has responsibility for strategy, with a focus on financial and operating ­performance.


What are the key elements of your role?

As CEO I have full responsibility for the running of the business as well as setting and delivering the firm’s strategy. A key element of the role is external-facing as I act as client relationship manager for many of the firm’s largest clients. I allocate around 45 per cent of my time to clients, 45 per cent to internal aspects of running the firm and 10 per cent to prospective clients.

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

Embedding a culture of efficiency is at the heart of the firm, as this not only delivers results for the partnership and all employees, but also delivers best value to our clients. We are a transparent organisation, to such an extent that our trainees see the performance of our most senior people.

Clearly, efficiency is not just about the top line, so no matter what we ­invest our money and time in, our people need to consider what the ­return on investment is.

What are the primary ways you source suppliers to the business?

In each business supply line we go through an in-depth procurement exercise. Once appointed, we carry out an annual assessment of suppliers to ensure they are delivering against the key performance indicators. Suppliers we regard as business-critical we engage with on a group basis around every 18 months to ensure they understand the direction our business is travelling and they can align their service to our needs.

What’s in your in-tray?

Our year-end is 31 March, so I’m reviewing our divisional/ departmental scorecards and individual partner performance scorecards. In relation to clients, I review and assess the monthly balance scorecards we have developed in conjunction with key clients. This is a key activity in the first three days of each month.

There are two tenders near to sign-off – one for additional service lines of an existing client in the banking sector and the other for a prospective utilities client.

What was the most pressing item you faced relating to the running of the firm last year and how did you resolve it?

The most significant opportunity of the past 12 months related to our ­appointment as legal adviser to Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Through this we had the opportunity to acquire marketing rights. I’m delighted to say that through a robust assessment of the business case we became a sponsor of the largest global sporting event to take place in Scotland.


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

The Scottish economy and the profession are both going through a challenging time, with significant oversupply in the legal market. This affects the perceived value of legal services, as some competitors are  having to ‘low ball’ to cover costs.

Thankfully, given the way we’ve positioned ourselves, clients and prospective clients can differentiate between a quality-led offering and the lowest price. 

What will have an impact in the future?

The fact that I’ve had calls from prospective investors would suggest there’s going to be an impact.

I think we’ll see the establishment of recognised brands in the consumer market and further consolidation among firms servicing other ­sectors as they hope to create capital value.

What’s the management structure of your organisation?

Chairman Lorne Crerar and I set and deliver strategy. We are both on the managing board, which has five members. In my capacity as CEO I chair the executive team and our ­divisional board, made up of heads of departments or divisions.

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

Many leaders take the view that it’s what you say that counts, but using your ears – listening to and interpreting what others think – is crucial to any leader or mentor.


Turnover: £17.1m (2010-11)

Revenue per lawyer:£192,000

Revenue per partner:£407,000

Legal market

“I don’t believe there is a ‘big bang’ going on, but rather a slow creep of change in the legal sector,” says Darroch. “The structural change has opened up opportunities for us in creating new routes to market via online and retail offerings. It’s also led to better engagement and alignment within aspects of the legal community, as 172 firms in Scotland have joined the Connect2Law network.”


CRM: In-house system

PMS: LawSoft by Pilgrim

Other: Case Management Software Solcase by LexisNexis