Manchester firm Pannone was marking the end of an era last week as senior partner Joy Kingsley announced she is leaving the firm for a much smaller local rival JMW Solicitors.
Having spent her entire career at Pannone, Kingsley chose to leave because “firms evolve and I made the decision to look around”.
“I’d never been to a recruiter before and was surprised by the level of interest,” says Kingsley. “I reached a fairly advanced level with two firms that were bigger than Pannone, but from the beginning I was interested in JMW.”
That was a process Kingsley says began recently – on 16 April. The timing is interesting – it comes as Pannone announces a new managing partner. Kingsley’s successor as managing partner in 2008, Steven Grant, chose not to stand for re-election when his term finishes in December and the firm has appointed clinical negligence head Emma Holt to succeed him.
Is this pure coincidence or was Kingsley unhappy? “Emma will make a good managing partner. It isn’t any reflection on her whatsoever, but it did give me a chance to reflect on what I want to do in the next five to 10 years,” says Kingsley. “There has been considerable change [at Pannone] in a relatively short period.”
She adds: “There was no issue that Pannone wanted me to leave or pay me less money. I just wanted to have an impact in a different firm, and that’s why I didn’t go to another large firm.”
Now the firm that she joined as an articled clerk in 1978 – before becoming a salaried partner in 1983 and managing partner in 1995 – will have to re-elect a new senior partner as well. But Kingsley maintains that “the relationship with Pannone is good and will remain so”.
Despite a string of successes at Pannone, including seeing turnover jump from £6m to £50m, and average profit per equity partner (PEP) increase from £50,000 to £300,000 while she was managing partner, Kingsley emphasises that she does not want to recreate another Pannone.
As senior partner she will sit on the firm’s board and be involved in a number of business development activities. She will assist in management, but primary responsibility for that area will continue to rest with managing partner Bill Jones.
“We’d only have created the role for the right person,” says Jones. “Some people are semi-retired, but simply making somebody senior partner because they’re coming towards their twilight years doesn’t seem that purposeful. Joy’s not coming here to sit on her laurels.”
Reflecting on the nature of her new post, Kingsley says: “I don’t tend to jump into just one project – it’s across the board.”
Other projects as Pannone senior partner included running the firm’s referral network, Connect, and business development for the private client practice.
Kingsley also did a fair bit on the commercial side and was recently instrumental in getting Berwin Leighton Paisner to refer routine work on its lucrative Thames Water outsourcing deal to Pannone.
As JMW grows – income this year was up 28 per cent to £11m – and targets City firms for referral work, Kingsley’s experience and contacts in winning new work will be key.
But her presence could also have an impact on the internal culture at the firm. Over the last 15 years Kingsley was one of just a handful of female chiefs at a top 100 firm.
t 50 per cent, Pannone also has one of the highest proportions of women in its partnership of any major firm.
In contrast, Kingsley will join JMW as the only female equity partner among nine. Does she anticipate a feminisation of the higher echelons as a result of her arrival? “There are very good women coming up at JMW, but it’s not about female or male – it’s about the best person for the job,” she says. “If your reputation is in areas such as family and personal injury, you attract more women than men.”
Kingsley says Pannone has been recognised for this in workplace awards, adding, “I’m sure I’ll have some input” at JMW.
Kingsley is taking two months’ gardening leave from the end of June before joining JMW. Her plans are to “go on holiday to Italy, Mexico and stay with friends in the UK”. But she admits to being something of a workaholic and that come 1 September she will probably have itchy feet.
“This is the first time I’ve had eight weeks off without any major responsibility. I was a bit frightened initially, but now I’m looking forward to it,” she muses.