Pinsent Masons: David Ryan

‘Every one matters’ is Pinsents’ new mantra. Managing partner David Ryan tells The Lawyer just how he plans to put those words into practice

Name: David Ryan
Firm: Pinsent Masons
Title: Managing partner
Firm turnover: £192.4m
Number of fee-earners: 1,008
David Ryan’s CV

1982: St John’s College, Oxford, BA law
1986: London and Chicago Business Schools, MBA
Work History:
1983: Trainee, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
1985: Qualified, Freshfields,
1987: Consultant, Bain & Company
1988: Manager, Freshfields
1990: Associate, Pinsents
1992: Partner, Pinsents
2004: Managing partner, Pinsents

Pinsents Masons managing partner David Ryan keeps an impressively straight face as he explains the branding of the firm’s all-important corporate social responsibility programme.

“It’s called Starfish,” he says, his eyebrows motionless. “It’s named after a story in which a child takes a walk on a beach, finds a starfish on the sand and throws it back into the sea. This happens every time the child walks on the beach until one day her father, perplexed, asks her why she does it. The child replies, ‘Because every one matters’.”

Ryan sheepishly admits that the tale was as new to him to as it is to The Lawyer, but argues that saccharine labelling aside, the firm’s emphasis on relationships is delivering results.

Just three years after the marriage of Pinsents and Masons, the firm boasts an average profit per equity partner of £460,000 from a starting point circa £250,000; a staff turnover of just 13 per cent (down from 17 per cent this time last year); and a take-up rate of 200 out of the 230 job offers the firm has made to lawyers in the last financial year, Ryan observes.

The firm’s post-merger values programme, led by Ryan and senior partner Chris Mullen, stated three objectives. The first of these is that lawyers at the firm should be ‘open and approachable’ to clients and colleagues; second, that Pinsents emphasise ‘respect and cooperation’ (to that end, the firm abolished office-based figures reporting in favour of a practice line approach); and third, to highlight the importance of ‘ambition and excellence’.

“There’s much more momentum and people are much more ambitious about what they want to achieve,” says Ryan.

He notes that, in the past year alone, the firm has taken on 100 new lawyers, put in a brand-new phone system and moved into Citypoint, while new clients include high street giant John Lewis, Bank of Ireland, bookmaker William Hill and both major groups of the Government’s Catalist super-panel.

Yet three years ago it was all very different. “People were surprised by the merger,” he says. “I don’t think they appreciated how big the client base was.

“People asked the question, ‘Why is this going to work?’, as there’s a natural scepticism about mergers. We’d say it’s client-led: they’d think it’s about cost-saving.”

Ryan explains that the marriage was proposed because of the compatibility of the two firms’ sectoral experience, making possible benefits such as the combination of the firms’ insurance skills with outsourcing, or the competition teams’ inroads into the construction industry. But he also admits that there is such a thing as growth for growth’s sake.

“Scale’s important,” says Ryan. “Growth is at the core of what we do, and as clients are consolidating firms we need to have the natural depth and reach to move with those changes.”

This includes growing the firm’s international reach. Unlike key rivals DLA Piper and Eversheds, however, which have addressed the international market predominantly via new offices, Pinsents has instead focused on its European alliance network, the Pinsent Masons Luther Group (PMLG).

“We think the market’s moving quickly and we want to be in a place where we’re offering clients a very high calibre of service, and that it would take a very long time to get to that stage if we opened our own offices,” Ryan explains.

This includes clarifying the firm’s ambiguous position vis-à-vis the US after it quietly dropped its solo tie-up with San Francisco-based Thelen Reid & Priest following the latter’s merger with New York’s Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner.

“We have a lot of good relationships out there and we want to look at those,” Ryans says, confirming nothing. Will there be a Pinsent Masons-branded office in the US? “Not anytime soon.”

As well as growth internationally, the firm also wants to boost its financial services offering, with banking and finance set to grow from its present £11m-£20mplus within the next three to five years.

For this growth, however, Ryan eschews setting any target for the firm’s overall turnover “as that doesn’t mean anything to us or to our clients”. And although he adds that “it is very important to keep profit moving”, the same applies for the firm’s average profit per equity partner.

“We had 20 new partners last year attracted to us, and that’s from a position in 2005 where we couldn’t attract any laterals. Back in 2005 people asked us how profitable we wanted to be; now they don’t ask,” says Ryan.

When it comes to the competition, Ryan predictably cites Eversheds and DLA Piper, and it is a sign of the firm’s progress in three years that the claim stands up. The firm also competes with Lovells on insurance work, Ryan adds, with Addleshaw Goddard for FTSE250 clients and New York-headquartered White & Case on international projects.

Ryan concludes: “There’s more differentiation in the marketplace and firms are setting out different stalls. We’re about offering something high calibre, cost-effective and with good reach. Are we the only firm offering that? No. But there are very few that are.”