Christina Blacklaws was recently hired as the Co-operative’s new head of strategy and policy and will lead the organisation’s pioneering foray into alternative business structures (ABSs).

Christina Blacklaws, Co-operative Legal Services

For the next six months, Blacklaws will hold down two jobs – the Co-operative role and family law partner at legal aid firm TV Edwards. Her experience in the legal aid sphere is driving her desire to ensure that the Co-op’s reinvention as an ABS will see it serve low-income clients who cannot obtain legal aid, thus increasing access to justice. With the legal aid reforms currently on the Government’s table, the Co-op could prove a lifeline to many, and Blacklaws is well-equipped to lead the organisation’s efforts in this new world.


Kate Burns, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

The leadership potential in Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer senior associate Kate Burns was spotted as far back as 2008, when the firm introduced a series of rolling secondments for associates to join the senior management team. Freshfields was on the lookout for new talent and Burns was in the first batch. The magic circle firm turned to her once again last April, when it appointed her as an associate-level adviser to senior management on a permanent basis. The corporate lawyer is now working alongside Freshfields senior partner Will Lawes, managing partner Ted Burke and executive partner Stephan Eilers advising on strategic and project issues. As Burke put it: “Kate was a natural choice for us.”


Cristina Calvo, Ashurst

Ashurst might have become a slightly more diverse place over the years, but it still took until 2011 for the firm to elect a female board member. Cristina Calvo scooped the honour of being the first woman in the prestigious management role last year after winning a vote in which all four candidates were female. Calvo is a top-notch lawyer, an accomplished client-handler and, as the first-ever Madrid partner to win a role on the board, she will be central to Ashurst’s drive for more women in senior roles and its aim to present itself as a more international firm.

Mark Dembovsky, Howard Kennedy

If ever there was an opaque firm among The Lawyer’s top 100 it was Howard Kennedy – emphasis on the ‘was’. In the new dawn – heralded by the arrival of the firm’s first-ever non-lawyer chief executive Mark Dembovsky – the West End firm has begun embracing transparency, reporting its year-end financial results for the first time last year after its conversion to LLP status. Last year’s financial indicators were positive. Turnover rose by 7 per cent from £27.5m to £29.5m while net profit also climbed, by 8 per cent from £3.7m to £4m. No, it’s not all down to Dembovsky, but internally and externally the former Dawsons CEO is seen as a catalyst for change.

Steven Greenwood, Stone King

These days, it’s all about focus, particularly at smaller firms under severe pressure from a rapidly consolidating market. Some of the cannier ones, including Bath-headquartered Stone King, are responding to the challenge. Managing partner Steven Greenwood has been with the firm for 24 years, ever since he qualified as a trainee. In 2010 he became its first-ever managing partner, a role introduced by partners to help with senior lateral hires and to provide a strategic focus. In the spotlight are two sectors, charities and education. Stone King has now handled some 25 per cent of academy conversions nationally and is second only to the traditional giant of the charities sector, Bates Wells & Braithwaite, when it comes to its latter focus. The firm may still be small compared to some, but as its financial data proves, it has direction.


Craig Holt, QualitySolicitors

It is an understatement to describe QualitySolicitors’ founder Craig Holt as an innovator. Holt was the man who offered a lifeline to hundreds of high street lawyers across the country and gave the big boys something to think about. The first to be genuinely open and transparent about external investment, QualitySolicitors chief executive Holt was rewarded with a slug of new capital in October last year, estimated to be at least £50m, courtesy of Palamon Capital Partners. In the brave new world of the Legal Services Act it is Holt that is blazing a trail.


Andrew Leaitherland, DWF

With an office opening in Newcastle and an impressive recruitment campaign, North West firm DWF was already having a good year when in June it announced a 92 per cent increase in average earnings per partner and a 15 per cent rise in turnover. Then the second half of the year happened. The insurance firm’s entry into the Birmingham market was overshadowed by its takeover of highly respected Newcastle firm Crutes. Although not a mega-insurance merger in the same ballpark as Clyde & Co and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, the Northern deal acted as yet another high-quality boost to DWF, a firm that has been continually on the up under managing partner Andrew Leaitherland. The DWF head man has big ambitions and the nous to achieve them.


Michael Lingens, Speechly Bircham

Speechly Bircham managing partner Michael Lingens has long been recognised as one of the market’s clearest thinkers on law firm strategy. No surprise then that he was the driving force behind Speechly’s emergence as an increasingly visible force in the UK. The 2009 takeover of West End outfit Campbell Hooper propelled the firm into the top 50 by revenue. Last year that expansion continued with the launch of Speechly’s first international offices, in Luxembourg and Zurich. Lingens, an engaging law firm leader now in his fifth term as managing partner, is the definitive safe pair of hands.


Peter Martyr, Norton Rose

No firm has made more of an impact on the international legal market in recent years, or transformed itself to the same degree, as Norton Rose. Three years ago it was an also-ran. Now, thanks to an aggressive roster of mergers in Australia, Canada and South Africa, it is a strategic trailblazer. A US deal surely beckons, and would cement the firm’s place among the most significant in the world. The man primarily responsible for Norton Rose’s explosion on to the world stage was quietly re-elected last summer to the chief executive role, kicking off a new three-year term on 1 January this year following an uncontested election.


Alison Morley, Capsticks

Alison Morley, managing director of healthcare specialist Capsticks, is one of those law firm leaders who scores highly for transparency, frankness and approachability. In other words, the kind of person you want to be running the show when your single market moves dramatically. That is exactly what happened to public sector-focused Capsticks, but with Morley’s guidance the firm has not only responded, it has thrived. The London-headquartered firm posted a 13 per cent increase in total revenue last year, from £26.4m to £29.8m. It also announced the opening of an office in Leeds and ramped up its national expansion strategy with a new 10-year lease and additional space at its Birmingham office. Quietly, but with immense authority, Morley is helping to transform her firm.


David Morley, Allen & Overy

In recent years Allen & Overy (A&O) has transformed itself more than any other magic circle firm. And much of the credit for that can be laid at the door of senior partner David Morley. But Morley is about much more than seeking out new locations – such as Belfast, Turkey and Washington DC – to plant an A&O flag. In September last year he instigated the first profession-wide scheme to provide quality work experience for state school students, an initiative known as ‘Prime’. Pushing social mobility up the City agenda became something of a theme for Morley last year: the A&O lawyer also chaired a high-level summit at the firm’s Bishops Square HQ aimed at addressing these issues in the legal profession in the wake of rising university fees.

Paul Murray, Beachcroft

In June last year The Lawyer first revealed the merger talks between Davies Arnold Cooper (DAC) and Beachcroft that, by 1 November, would create a 230-partner, £175m insurance giant. Insurance mergers were one of the hallmarks of 2011, but while they were no doubt driven by market pressures, they also represented the fruits of some cool-headed and steady management. None more so than by Beachcroft managing partner Paul Murray, a man who has helped his firm add £10m a year to its revenue over the past three years and boosted average earnings per partner to a healthy £250,000 in the same period. Murray was key to spotting the opportunities in the DAC deal and instrumental in pushing it through. Now, as with any merger, he has to make it work. Don’t bet against him.

Tim Oliver, Parabis Group

Among the many themes highlighted by this year’s Hot 100, few are more far-reaching than the changes heralded by the Legal Services Act. And few management teams have embraced that change as enthusiastically or successfully as that of volume insurance services provider Parabis. The firm was established only 10 years ago by former Berrymans Lace Mawer partner Tim Oliver. Last year Parabis – the parent group of defendant firm Plexus and claimant firm Cogent – entered the UK 200 ranking at number 41 with a £100m turnover. This year the firm is poised for more growth, steered by Oliver and a willingness to move away from the traditional law firm way of doing business. Bigger things beckon.

John Pickering, Irwin Mitchell

Irwin Mitchell is in the vanguard of firms looking to capitalise on the opportunities created by the Legal Services Act (LSA), and much of that is thanks to managing partner John Pickering. Last April The Lawyer reported that the firm was planning to be among the first to convert to an alternative business structure, a move that would garner it a £50m war chest to help with an aggressive period of recruitment. It was a strategy encapsulated by Pickering’s clear-sighted belief that the move would help Irwin Mitchell compete more successfully in the post-LSA world. Expect to see much of the firm this year, which marks the start of an era that demands law firms are headed by decisive leaders. In Pickering, Irwin Mitchell has one of the best.

Gary Senior, Baker & McKenzie

For years Baker & McKenzie was one of the legal market’s favourite whipping boys. The global firm has traditionally – and unfairly – been dismissed as a franchise, a kind of ‘McLaw’. But those jibes are becoming increasingly outdated, particularly in London, home to the firm’s largest and arguably most successful office. Under London managing partner Gary Senior, the firm’s City office has boomed, with profitability comfortably in the ballpark of most leading UK rivals’. Senior is also a key member of the firm’s global policy committee. Bakers in London has come out of the recession in a significantly stronger position than it went into it. Much of that is down to Senior, whose star is likely to keep rising.

Paul Wilson, Shakespeares

In these tough times there is little place for the timid, so it’s just as well for Midlands firm Shakespeares that in 2006 it merged with local rival Putsmans. In doing so, Shakespeares also picked up Putsmans chief executive Paul Wilson. Since then the firm’s been on the up, with no fewer than four mergers in the past 18 months. Shakespeares is now positioned solidly in the UK top 100, and the ambitious Wilson wants it to remain on an upwards trajectory. He has form, too. Wilson previously acted as chief executive for Birmingham chambers St Philips, which under his leadership merged to become the then-biggest set in the country before seeing rapid turnover increases and cost-cutting.