Lawyer Management: Herbert Smith Freehills

Peter Chater has been head of resourcing at Herbert Smith Freehills since October 2008, when he joined from credit rating agency Fitch. Prior to that he worked at recruiter Hudson and in the HR team at Goldman Sachs. Chater studied politics in Warwick and, on graduating, spent a year as a police officer in the West Midlands before moving to London. 

Peter Chater

How has your role changed since the merger?

The critical thing we had to deliver in advance of the merger was our new careers brand, which involved building a 600-page global site in three months. With our graduate recruitment programme ramping up across the network in September, this was a challenge. There were lots of early morning conference calls which helped develop our understanding of the strong brand we have in the Australian market. 

Post-merger there have been a lot of resourcing projects, from improving how we move our lawyers and business services staff around the network to rolling out joined-up systems and considering the impact of the merger on opportunities for secondments for graduate hires. 

The early morning calls with Australia continue.

What was the most pressing issue you faced last year?

It had to be the merger. Getting our careers website and graduate brochures ready in such a short time involved a massive effort across business development, IT and HR. It was a great achievement but it was pretty frenetic and exhausting.

What impact are changes to the UK legal market having on your firm and your role?

The main challenge we face is responding to the increasing expectations of our clients to do things in more innovative ways. The work we did to build the new team in Belfast was fascinating and great fun. It’s good to see the office grow and roll out new approaches to resourcing, such as our ‘Respond’ programme.

How important is branding in the legal profession?

Enormously important from a recruitment perspective. The type of people we’re looking to attract want both the assurance we’re a top-flight global law firm and also an understanding of what distinguishes us from the other leading global firms. It’s also important for clients – if faced with a ‘bet the company’ issue they want to mandate the best firm for that type of work. Branding helps on both fronts.

What have been the key ways in which you have improved the efficiency of the firm?

We’ve made our graduate recruitment process more sophisticated and this has resulted in a higher offer-rate for those who then come on our vacation schemes. We’ve also seen outstanding performances from our people studying the GDL and LPC. We’re working to reduce the cost of hiring experienced lawyers and staff, and to cut the time it takes to get them on board.

Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?

Bill Clinton. I studied politics and international relations at university, so would like to pick his brains on a few things.

What’s your biggest work/career mistake and what did you learn from it?

I had a great role with a fantastic manager in my mid-20s, but I stayed too long. You’ve got to keep doing new things to develop. I also regret not having worked outside the UK, but perhaps I’ll fix that soon.

Firm facts*

Partners: 450

Lawyers: 2059

Staff: 4279

Offices: 23

*All figures are post-merger: average full-time equivalents, Oct 2012 to Apr 2013



Global revenue: £471.2m

Net profit: £137.2m

The challenges of scale

“We’ve been busy moving people around the global network since the merger – and the number of our employees on secondment increased by around 80 per cent between 2011 and 2012,” explains Chater, when asked about the challenges he has faced since the firm increased in size. 

“Nowadays, we need to
consult more widely before
taking certain types of action, which obviously takes more time, but we can leverage our joint spend on things such as our branding and systems, which is clearly a substantial positive for the firm.”


N/a – the firm is conducting a post-merger review so was unable to confirm its IT services.