Would you pass the lift test? City firm Fox Williams is going through a period of controlled expansion and senior partner Ronnie Fox has a question for prospective candidates. Apparently, peerless qualifications and a spotless CV are not enough. “Obviously, we're looking for people who are really bright and have the necessary skills and experience,” says Fox. “But I also want people who I wouldn't mind getting stuck in a lift with.”
Not that Fox Williams is planning on going wild. There are currently 55 fee-earners, comprising 13 partners, seven trainees and the remainder are associates with two of that number being made partner next month. The workload is divided between its four core practices of mergers and acquisitions, employment, IT and partnership law. The firm is looking for a number of discrete lateral hires. In particular, the firm is seeking a pensions specialist for its employment department and recruits for its commercial department. “We think that now is the time to invest for long-term growth,” says Fox.
The same six partners – Fox, Tina Williams, Paul Osborne, Nigel Miller, Stephen Sidkin and Mark Watson – who set up the firm in 1989 remain with the practice today, which their senior partner regards as a healthy sign. “We saw ourselves originally as a corporate boutique and we decided to set up the firm on the basis that if it didn't work out, then we'd fold and join other firms,” he says. “We knew in a few weeks that it was going to work out and lots of our clients followed us. Many are still here today.”
The past few months have seen the firm advising on a number of particularly high-profile cases. It represented City bond trader Kerim Derhalli, who brought a record £10m pay claim against Lehman Brothers and reached a last-minute out of court settlement in March. The firm was also involved in the Financial Services Authority's investigation into the collapse of Marconi, on which they advised deputy chief executive John Mayo, who was exonerated.
Fox Williams styles itself as an innovative firm that represents innovative clients. As Fox points out, the firm has developed something of a tradition for founding influential lawyers' groups. Partner Jane Mann co-founded the Employment Lawyers' Association, was its first secretary and then chairman. While Fox himself was a founding member of the Association of Partnership Practitioners and was its first chairman.
As a leading expert on partnership law, Ronnie Fox has advised a number of law firms on mergers, and, in turn, they have been courted a few times. “We've decided that we'll never say never, but so far, we've always found there are a lot of advantages in remaining independent and having the freedom to achieve our own successes and make our own mistakes,” he says.
According to Fox, the firm's philosophy is both outward and inward looking. “We have a very particular approach,” he says. “We like to think that we devote more time to understanding our client needs [than other firms], getting alongside our clients and maintaining close relationships. We like to think that we have a better understanding of what entrepreneurs are looking for.”
As for the introspective part of the firm's ethos, it's back to the lift test. “We want people who enjoy working for the firm, and people who don't dread Monday morning coming,” he says.