New law firm leaders must learn fast

Matt Byrne

“Don’t ignore the little things.” Sound advice from one of the new crop of law firm leaders profiled in this week’s feature.

Well, when I say ‘new’, Tim Halstead hardly fits that bill. He’s been managing partner of Leeds-based Shulmans for 20 years, but earlier this year was re-elected for another stint. He should know a thing or two about running a business by now.

Luckily for this year’s unusually large bunch of new leaders currently wrestling with the headaches of becoming top dog, he’s not alone. Slaughters, Travers, Nabarro, FFW, Weightmans – they all have new men at the top.

And yes, they are all men. Female managing partners continue to be rarer than training contracts, although there is at least one trend-bucker on the block in the shape of Kingsley Napley senior partner Jane Keir. Her elevation not only made Keir just the fifth holder of the title in the firm’s 75-year history, but also made Kingsley Napley the only member of the top 100 to boast both a female senior and managing (Linda Woolley) partner.

Good advice is welcome when starting a new job so it’s handy that the feature also includes some pearls of wisdom from a batch of freshly reappointed old hands. Among them is Clyde & Co’s Peter Hasson (“I’ve been here 17 years, so I get the chance to rectify the mistakes I’ve made”) and Olswang chief executive David Stewart.

Earlier this year Stewart was elected for a second three-year term which kicked off last month. He urges colleagues and rivals to “work smarter and think strategically”, and says one of the most important lessons he’s learnt during his years at the top is that law firms, “are not immune to the challenges of the corporate world”.

His comment is doubly relevant in the context of Friday’s news that one of the market’s largest firms, the £100m+ personal injury giant Minster, has been acquired by insurance business BGL Group. Not immune from corporate challenges indeed. In a market that is changing as rapidly as this one, it’s worth getting all the good advice you can find.