Manches vows to make post-recession comeback

Manches is set to enter a fresh era of growth under the leadership of newly appointed chief executive Judit Petho.

Judit Petho
Judit Petho

Petho, a trained lawyer, has joined the firm from global accounting network RSM International, where she held the post of chief operating officer for the past two years.

The decision to take up the senior post at Manches, she says, was prompted by a desire to return to law.

Petho worked as a lawyer with Arthur Andersen and CMS Cameron McKenna before quitting the profession to complete an MBA at HEC School of Business in Paris.

“It was a big transition from being a lawyer to more of a strategist,” she says.

When she completed the course Petho took up a ­position with RSM and rose through the ranks to join senior management.

“I’ve developed a niche for dealing with partnerships and senior-level people,” she reveals.

At the beginning of the year she decided to return to the legal profession and put that experience to the test.

“I really liked what Manches had to offer – there are great opportunities here,” she enthuses. “It’s clear to me there’s a nice ­culture and an appetite for growth, development and more focus.”

Manches, like many of its contemporaries, has seen turnover dip as a result of the recession. At the latest year-end, which reflects figures for 2009 because the firm accounts on a calendar-year basis, turnover fell by 8.8 per cent, from £34.1m to £31.1m.

However, Petho says the firm has a strong core from which to grow and insists that growth is firmly on the agenda.

“The recession’s been ­difficult for everyone across the board and it still isn’t clear whether we’re out of it,” she says. “Firms have to learn to operate in that environment, but investment’s always important. Cost-­cutting will hinder growth.”

Manches is on the hunt for lawyers at all levels to supplement its core ­practices of litigation, ­family, commercial property and corporate.

The firm’s dispute resolution group was the target of a raid by litigation boutique Stewarts Law last year. In May partner Keith Thomas was the fourth partner to leave for Stewarts, following Clive Zietman, Andrew Shaw and family partner Debbie Chism.

Managing partner Louis Manches says that an upturn in IP-related work and real estate litigation means that Manches is ­aiming to add “strength and depth” to that practice.

The firm is also targeting growth for its family practice by creating greater alignment with its private client group. Manches’ ­family team is considered one of the best in the City, offering the talents of ­highly rated partners such as Helen Ward. Last year, Formula 1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone swapped ­Withers partner Mark Harper for Ward to ­represent him in his ­multimillion-pound divorce from Slavica Ecclestone (The Lawyer, 21 January 2009).

Petho points out that, while the family practice has “great strength”, there is “still room for growth”.

“The emphasis is on ­performance,” she adds. “The challenge for a firm of our size is to have focus and we have to align the firm so that everybody’s working with the same strategy.”

Manches was among the first firms to appoint a non-lawyer chief executive when it appointed Alun Lamerton to the role in 1990.

His retirement last year prompted the firm to hire Orrick Herrington & ­Sutcliffe’s former regional managing officer for Europe Alexandrina Le Clezio. She took up the position in January, but quit in the summer for personal reasons.