Now you see me…

On tape the CMS network’s new head honcho Robert Derry-Evans is the perfect company man; off tape he’s actually alright. Naomi Rovnick reports

Robert Derry-Evans is great fun. He is that rare sort of senior lawyer who is equally happy entertaining clients at the rugby or – according to several good sources – late night drinking in Soho nightclubs.

The interview starts promisingly. He is chirpy and gossipy, and even reveals how much money the firm has saved by banning biscuits at internal meetings. But as soon as the tape is turned on he morphs into the perfect model of how senior managers should talk to journalists. He is articulate, measured, diplomatic and doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to promoting CMS, the eight-firm international network that he is preparing to head up after nine years managing its London founder, CMS Cameron McKenna. Whenever he is hit with a personal question, he immediately hits back with more interesting facts about CMS.

I ask him how he feels about relocating to Brussels, where the CMS secretariat is based, when he starts to run the network. He says he is pleased because he has been given a serviced apartment just a five-minute walk from the CMS office. I ask about his family – a surefire way of securing anecdotes for the lazy (or desperate) journalist. He relates that he has a wife and three daughters and that they all live in Bath. Oh, and while we are on the subject of Bath, did I know that there is a 6.30am flight from Bristol that will get him to his desk in Brussels by 9.15am? Stone the crows – that is fascinating. Will the real Derry-Evans please stand up? Of course he will, and he will get the drinks in, too, but only after the recording is finished and the notepad firmly shut.

Okay. This is unfair. Derry Evans, as professional interviewee, is not just smoke and mirrors. For example, he openly confirms plans for profit-sharing among the member firms, a question senior CMS partners normally dance around as if they had been trained by Nureyev for that express purpose.

Luckily for us, the CMS network is currently undergoing the most interesting phase of its four-year existence. Since it was founded by Camerons and highly-rated German firm Hasche Sigle, it has been run from Brussels by an administrative team, making decisions on aspects such as secondment procedures and conflicts policies. The network is about to be turned into a ‘firm’, with the aforementioned profit-sharing and an integrated business, which is why the CMS executive felt Derry-Evans should run it.

“Now there are building blocks in place, CMS needs to grow on its past track record into a transnational business in Europe. It now needs to be run by a lawyer, which it wasn’t before, who’s aware of how client relationships are managed. Prospective clients perceive we are a single firm. We need to build on that perception and make it a reality. We also need some form of institutional integration,” says Derry-Evans.

That said, he is the first to admit that nobody has decided how integration of the eight European firms (nine if talks with Spanish firm Roca Junyent come off) will happen.

He definitely will not follow the magic circle firms into creating a single international partnership and then shouting lots at the non-London partners for not being profitable enough.

“Think about the Clifford Chance, Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer] and Linklaters stories,” he says. “They certainly got economic integration much more quickly than we will. You speak to partners on the Continent and it’s brought a lot of dissatisfaction. We’ve grown up with the CMS firms. We don’t want to impose an economic model that will lead to the break-up of what we’ve created.”

Instead, CMS may plump for a template adopted by the big four accountancy firms, with a global brand and an umbrella international partnership comprising the most senior partners in each jurisdiction.

“Look at Deloitte & Touche. For 20 years or more everyone’s assumed that Deloittes is a single organisation. But the partners don’t all share profits from the same pot. They’ve established the Deloittes brand, which makes everyone think the firm’s a single entity,” Derry-Evans says in defence of the accountancy prototype.

Of course, it is up to Derry-Evans to carve out this new model and take soundings from CMS partners on how they want it to work. This is a job that will see him working in Brussels and constantly trotting around Europe. He will not see the City for weeks on end.

As a Londoner who thinks the countryside starts at Putney, I feel compelled to ask if he will miss the Big Smoke. This is a personal question, so he is naturally non-committal, but the answer is easy to work out. Derry-Evans is a Welshman who lives in Bath, and now he is a budding Eurocrat who speaks in euros instead of sterling.

He says that CMS, as a single firm, would turn over around e550m a year. He kindly translates this figure into pounds (£382.6m) and it turns out that an integrated CMS would be the same size as the present day Lovells.

This makes it clear that Derry-Evans move from chief executive of Camerons to executive partner of CMS is truly a promotion. Camerons has a managing and a senior partner, and Derry-Evans will not be replaced as chief executive. It is easy to think he has been shunted into this new role as a way of slimming down a top-heavy management, but this is not the case. Derry-Evans’ new role was the idea of a Europewide group of CMS partners and had nothing much to do with the London arm.

“It wasn’t that I was casting around for something to do,” explains Derry-Evans. “It was quite clear CMS needed an executive partner. A number of people within CMS approached me 12 months ago and said this was something I should do.”

This is one of the only occasions when, during an interview for an article all about him, Derry-Evans speaks in the first person.

He gets all bashful at the suggestion that he was asked to lead CMS because he is a good diplomat who gets on well with everyone. When asked what sort of manager he has been at Camerons, he says he does not really know.

“When I started the job, it was less about what I wanted to be and more about where the firm should be going,” he claims in a classic example of self-effacement.

It is clearly time to stop trying, so the machine is turned off, which has the effect of switching Derry-Evans back on. Finally we have a good chinwag. He is a thoroughly good bloke, you see – but you will just have to take my word for it.

Robert Derry-Evans
Senior lawyer
CMS network, Brussels