John Banister, chief executive officer
Wiggin’s chief executive officer John Banister became the firm’s first non-lawyer partner in January this year following the introduction of the Legal Services Act. Banister joined Wiggin in 2003 as chief operating officer. He has previously held roles at Merrill Lynch, KPMG and Linklaters.
How has your role changed since you joined Wiggin?
I joined Wiggin as COO in 2003 and at that time my role was very inward facing. I was responsible for much of the necessary back-end functions that ensure the continued health and growth of the firm.
Since then, my role as CEO has become far more strategic and externally focused. We have a huge range of blue-chip clients across the media sector and we act not just as lawyers but as commercial advisers. As CEO I want to take this even further and move towards us offering the full range of media services. One of our recent ventures, Incopro [which provides intelligent content protection to media companies], demonstrates this direction.
Wiggin recently opened its first international office in Brussels. Why Brussels and are more office openings in the pipeline?
Historically our international focus has been heavily biased towards the US and its large referral network. We’re the only law firm in the UK to represent all of the six US film studios, and so, of course, this is natural. However, with the launch of Incopro, and the recent appointment of Motion Picture Association’s European legal head Ted Shapiro, our focus is shifting towards our closer neighbours, hence the Brussels office. Ted’s existing relationships open up the potential for significant European growth and the opportunity to work with like-minded firms across Europe.
Wiggin is growing steadily and as with any expanding business we’re always on the look-out for opportunities, so we may well consider another office if there’s a business case.
Prior to joining Wiggin you had held positions at Merrill Lynch, KPMG and Linklaters. How does your role differ now?
Wiggin is a boutique firm and very different from anywhere I’ve worked before. The difference in my role is influenced by the different organisational cultures, and therefore my ability to drive change.
Our focus is on the sector we operate in: media. It is often said that trying to get everyone to agree on a strategy in a law firm is like trying to herd cats. But because Wiggin’s focus is so clear, we’re all moving purposefully in the same direction.
At Wiggin we can and regularly do fit the whole firm into the same room. We’re able to communicate with each other in a meaningful way. Our culture is open and not too hierarchical, enabling us to move with the times and with our clients, and my role is to help make this happen. This is something some of our larger and more unwieldy competitors might struggle with.
Has there ever been a problem at work that’s surprised you?
Like any business, we face new challenges all the time. Some big and some small, but very rarely do they take me completely by surprise. One thing I will say is that I’m always a little amused by how it’s the small, often trivial problems that are the hardest to fix and can be most time consuming.
What are the most significant external issues currently affecting your role?
The sluggish economy in that it affects our clients’ legal spend.
What problem would you most like technology to solve?
We have an office in Cheltenham and another in central London. A teleporter would be ideal for avoiding the rush-hour traffic.
What is the most important lesson your role has taught you?
It is impossible to over communicate. Communication is key but it’s not only about what you say, but also about how you act.
Gandhi famously once said: “Be the change you want to see” and this is how I try to direct the firm. I’ve learned from experience that I must behave how I want others to behave.
Net profit: £3.7m
The squeezed middle
Banister believes the Legal Services Act will lead to greater commoditisation of the market, adding that those who want to survive will have to stand out from the crowd.
“Ultimately I think there will be a handful of mega corporate law firms and then a layer of boutique specialists. I’m not entirely sure there will be much left in the middle,” he warns. “However on the whole I am very optimistic. I think the best will survive the challenge and there are still plenty of exciting opportunities for those just entering the profession.”