Scott Burns, managing partner at Brown Rudnick’s London office, has worked at the firm for 24 years. Prior to joining he ran the subsidiaries of US financial services conglomerate and was general counsel of a US bank holding company.
What are the key elements of your role?
I manage our London office, from which we run our European practice. I spend the greater part of my time working with our London-based lawyers and supporting them in developing their practice. I am also the principal link with our US administrative team.
In recent years I have focused my efforts on the recruitment of lateral partners as our European practice has developed.
We have a number of lawyers in London who play a key role in firm management. Three of my partners play leadership roles in their firmwide practice groups. I’m also a member of our management committee.
How has your role changed?
I was recruited to open the first US office outside Boston and develop the firm’s banking practice. After a few years I was asked to be chief administrative officer. In that role I worked closely with our then managing partner as we expanded, and was responsible for all support services. I also spent a great deal of time working with our partners as they built their practices.
In 1997 I came to the UK on a six-month assignment to explore whether we should open a London office. That assignment has extended to 16 years and we have grown to a team of 43 lawyers and a total London office of 70 people.
What’s in your in-tray?
The best thing is a letter from a client complimenting one of my partners on how helpful he has been in the past few years and indicating that they are trying to steer him as much work as possible. Fortunately, there are no complaints.
What was the most pressing item you faced on the operational side last year?
We opened our London office in the West End because our clients – at the time mainly hi-tech companies based on the Continent – were specific that they wanted us to be located here. As our practice has grown we have focused on working with venture, hedge and private equity funds, and family offices. Almost all are neighbours. We occupy three interconnected buildings and the biggest challenge was extending our leases on a cost-effective basis and renovating our offices.
What’s the key way you have improved the efficiency of the firm?
I’ve hired great staff.
What are the challenges of working for a US firm in London?
Communication between London and the US is critical. Working in several time zones can be a challenge although we’ve always had tremendous support from our US base. All but one of our London lawyers is qualified as a UK solicitor, but the lawyers come from all over the world. Unlike many London offices of US firms who primarily represent their US clients in Europe, our office was established to represent European clients.
However, there is no question that lawyers from different countries can communicate using different styles.
Historically, US firms seem to work more intensely than European ones, but in the past 16 years US and UK work practices have become more similar, although there can still be a different approach to collections. Virtually all US firms operate on a cash accounting basis, which is very different from accrual accounting.
What problem would you most like technology to solve?
I don’t think technology can solve the more serious problems law firm managers are facing, but we have great tech support and get all we could expect from our systems.
What’s the most important lesson your role has taught you?
When you think things are as good as they can get, prepare for a tumble.
Turnover: (2011) $158.9m
PEP: (2011) $1.16m
March to the beat of your own drum
“Brown Rudnick is a small, focused, profitable firm that operates without any debt,” says Burns, commenting on running a law business in a harsh market. “We’ve always been cost-conscious and are careful about our expenditure. We’ve always moved to our own beat and the firm has continued to perform well in a changing world.”
CRM: Contact Manager from Thomson Reuters
DMS: Autonomy Filesite Interwoven. Also case management and litigation support software, respectively West Case Notebook and West Case Logistix
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