David Dickinson

David Dickinson is just getting into his stride as the public face of Simmons & Simmons. He is due to take over from Alan Morris as managing director in April. Sean Farrell talks to a lawyer who’s got his work cut out

“I hate talking about myself,” says David Dickinson. Simmons & Simmons’ new managing partner-elect certainly seems occasionally ill at ease with his new role as the public face of the firm, checking his watch and questioning why anyone would want to know his age (“just 48”). Though always polite, a touch of impatience creeps into his voice as he responds to questions the answers to which must seem self-evident to him.

This is understandable because, apart from his family and gardening at his Surrey home, he admits to few interests apart from “the business – and it is a very interesting business. No two days have ever been the same”.

Dickinson joined Simmons and Simmons as a partner in 1988 from Union Bank of Switzerland (Securities). He has been managing partner of the banking and capital markets department since 1994, helping to set up the firm’s Hong Kong international finance practice. He was elected to his new role in a brought-forward election at the start of the year, and will take over in April from managing director Alan Morris – who did not seek re-election after a turbulent three-year term.

Dickinson’s occasional impatience may stem from the fact that he has a lot on his plate. He has a huge task ahead of him shoring up a firm whose profits have fallen and whose rate of partner departures has verged on an exodus. Simmons & Simmons has lost 15 partners in the past 13 months amid widely reported unrest over a new incentive-based salary structure for partners and divisions, as well as over Morris’s leadership.

“Our profits are not the highest in the land, and that has to be corrected,” Dickinson says.

When questioned about the departures, he stresses that “law firms do lose partners, and these days they lose more than they used to. It is a more fluid marketplace, and that trend is not going to stop”.

He adds that in the same period the firm gained 23 partners, and hints at more announcements soon.

On the controversial introduction of “a more merit-based system” of pay for partners, he remains resolute, saying the change was too slow for some and too quick for others, “so we have got it about right”.

Dickinson must restore confidence and unity to the firm, and he seems to acknowledge the need for consultation in rebuilding relations among the firm’s partners. “Consensus building is part of my job,” he says with emphasis, “spending time talking to people and picking up a common view. It is difficult in a large organisation like this, so communication is a key issue.”

Dickinson is enthusiastic about the firm’s future, stressing its continuing development in Europe, China and the Middle East, as well as the benefits of bringing the whole firm – currently spread around 11 buildings in London – under one roof in new premises in June 2000.

He concludes our meeting, with a brisk: “After all, I do have other things to do,” and sets off to carry on with the task in hand.
David Dickinson
Managing partner elect
Simmons & Simmons