Lawyer Management: HowardKennedyFsi

HowardKennedyFsi finance director Philip Mitchell joined legacy firm Finers Stephens Innocent in January 1992, having been a senior manager at KPMG from 1989. The two firms officially merged in January 2013.


How has your role changed since the merger?

As well as needing to learn a new accounts system (Elite) the most time-consuming yet extremely interesting thing has been getting to know the new people in the combined firm, particularly in the finance and new management teams.

What was the most pressing issue you faced last year?

Last year was a period of serious change, given the merger and the difficult economic environment. Setting realistic budgets and getting everyone to buy into those  was the first step, and then ensuring  we achieved them became the next target. 

Allied to this, we changed [the firm’s] bank when we merged, to Barclays. So building a relationship with the new bank has been important too.

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

Having been appointed COFA in the merged practice gives me an additional responsibility and, as we are one of the firms that is
now among the 200 that are monitored by the SRA, this means building relationships with the SRA is key.

How important is branding in the legal profession?

Setting ourselves apart from the competition is important. This should be a combination of branding and giving a high-quality and competitively priced service while meeting our clients’ needs and expectations. 

These aspirations go hand-in-hand and if we can’t show ourselves as a modern and forward-looking law firm we will struggle to advance.

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

Bringing in a business intelligence software system to allow us to have an overview of the firm despite operating on two practice management systems has been of immense value and improved the efficiency of reporting important information to key management in a timely manner. 

Reviewing and streamlining some of the reporting and analysis processes has also been important. 

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

James Bond. He would not only be an interesting person to talk to and relate lots of valuable experiences I could learn from, but would also find an innovative and exciting way to get out.

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

As with many people, responding too quickly by email has meant that the odd email has been sent to the wrong person – thankfully, nothing too sensitive. In this age, the speed with which contacts, both internal and external to the firm, expect responses means everyone thinks that they must respond to everything immediately. 

What would you do if you weren’t a finance director?

Possibly teaching or lecturing, as I would like to pass on my experience and knowledge to others.

Firm Facts:

Partners: 86

Qualified lawyers: 67

Support staff: 126

Total headcount: 350


Turnover: £40.6m

Net profit: £9m

PEP: £128,000

Snail mail

Responding too quickly to email is a bugbear of Mitchell’s (see above). “The key is to have a measured response,” he advises. “Maybe when someone has upset you, write the response but send it to yourself and then leave it for a couple of hours or overnight and review the response again before sending it.”

IT systems:

Practice management system: Elite and Artiion

Business information system: Board Business Intelligence software

Document management: iManage from Autonomy and Worldox