Slaughter and May: Saul power” /> The last time I saw Chris Saul he was singing along to the White Stripes in Hyde Park with a beer in his hand. Today he is wearing a suit, but he is equally upbeat. Not only has he just been elected senior partner of Slaughter and May, but he has already caught the imagination of the market.
Instead of indulging in lumpen management-speak about vision and systems and strategy and alignment, Saul has revealed that one of the most important parts of his job is making sure lawyers have fun. As he told The Lawyer.com on the day of the announcement (17 January): “The serious business of the law needs its lighter moments.”
It was a breath of fresh air. “A lot of people wouldn’t expect [such a statement from] Slaughter and May,” he concedes. “There’s a view out there which doesn’t represent reality – that we’re a bit stiff. But the partners aren’t stiff – they have lots of different hobbies and outside interests.”
As senior partner-elect of the City’s most elite corporate firm, Saul sees part of his task as communicating a hidden side of Slaughters to the outside world.
“The partnership see in me traditional values – I’m Slaughter and May through and through,” he says. “But in the recruitment market it’s important they see us as accessible people. When [graduates] come to interview they’re often amazed at how relaxed we are. The challenge is to combine the impression of a firm of quality with a sense of energy and balance.”
However, Saul represents considerable continuity. The firm’s current senior partner Tim Clark has spent much of his tenure firming up a network of best friends, and with considerable success. Slaughters shares knowledge with Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, Bredin Prat, Hengeler Mueller and Uría Menéndez, has strong relationships with six top New York firms, and is building a similar network in Eastern Europe and Asia.
“In international terms, the best friends [strategy] under Tim’s leadership has flourished,” says Saul. “We’re all as a group incredibly confident with that model.”
As head of corporate since 2003, Saul has been intimately involved with the implementation of the best friends strategy on a practice group level. Corporate lawyers from the European best friends now meet regularly to share experiences and exchange technical knowledge in a structured programme that has grown substantially over the past five years.
Furthermore, Saul’s own experience as partner in the firm’s now defunct New York office in the 1990s means that he has worked closely with Clark in shoring up referral relationships with the elite Wall Street firms (for more on this, see Byrne in the USA, page 13).
In voting for Saul, Slaughters’ partners have not elected a man who is radically different from his predecessor. Both are widely read linguists; Clark is fluent in Italian while Saul is fluent in French. “Tim’s more likely to read Tolstoy than go to a gig,” muses corporate partner Nigel Boardman, adding: “Chris has probably read Tolstoy, but would like to set it to music.”
Saul’s route to senior partner has not been obvious. To start with, his client base is relatively eclectic. Not for him the classic Slaughters approach of collecting listed companies like stamps, although he has very strong relationships with Unilever and General Electric. Early on in his partnership career he was even handling bond issues; this familiarity with the debt piece may have contributed to his success in capturing private equity work from the likes of Goldman Sachs over the past couple of years.
“I love the practice of law,” he says. “As head of corporate I enjoyed that mix of practice and encouraging people. Having seen that, the next stage was senior partner. Tim’s brought great style and charm to the position, so it’s a hard act to follow.”
But the City now faces very different times. The ability to encourage and cheerlead his colleagues may be needed more than ever this year. Intriguingly, this also raises the prospect of having to manage the expectations of the younger partners. The top of the equity at Slaughters touched £3m last year; such results may not happen again for a long, long time.
“When they become partners we say to them, ‘You’re becoming a partner at a good time for the City and a good time for Slaughter and May’,” Saul says. “It’s right to reflect on times past and that the early 2000s were not so easy and the early ’90s were pretty difficult.
“We face the prospect of economic turbulence and the question we have to ask is, ‘Are we match fit for this difficult period?’ I believe the answer is yes.
“It comes down to the way the firm operates – people are more adaptable here and we’ve not got a big team of specialised leveraged finance lawyers wondering where the next cov-lite deal is. But the model we have is a good model for difficult times.”
Name: Chris Saul
Firm: Slaughter and May
Title: Senior partner-elect
Chris Saul’s CV
Education: Tiffin School, Kingston-upon-Thames; St Catherine’s College, Oxford
1977-79: Trainee, Slaughter and May
1979-86: Corporate assistant
1986: Elected partner
1991-94: Head of New York office
2003: Elected head of corporate
2008: Elected senior partner
To hear Chris Saul talk on Slaughters’ strategy and his thoughts on Amy Winehouse, listen to the Lawyer January podcast