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Mike, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for The Brief. Firstly, can you give us a quick rundown of your career to date?
I am a litigator and have been at Wilsons since 2001. Before becoming managing partner in 2014, I was involved in running the various contentious teams at Wilsons, which I really enjoyed. Having completed a modern languages degree at Oxford, I converted to law and trained at Withers in London. Before starting my training contract, I had spent a short spell of time in Withers’ office in Paris and I thought I would be able to combine my language degree with a legal qualification. My career path went in a different direction and I don’t use my languages much now except on holiday.
It is a great privilege to be leading Wilsons and I am relishing the opportunity of taking this exciting business to the next stage of its journey. For me it is all about realising our full potential by providing consistently excellent service to our clients and a rewarding and supportive environment for my work colleagues.
How do you find juggling your duties as the firm’s managing partner alongside your client work?
It would be wrong for me to suggest that it isn’t challenging at times. However, my experience is that clients are usually very understanding of my management commitments and I am very well supported by my other litigation partners, who will always step in to assist, should the need arise with client work. I also have a good team of administrative directors and a great PA, so in most areas I can delegate and this team approach makes balancing the demands of my role much easier.
In management, I am frequently engaged in negotiations, in team building and in formulating different strategies. These are all skills which I developed and still deploy as a litigator, so in some respects the differences between my fee-earning and my non-fee earning roles are not so stark.
Which parts of the business do you think will be the key growth areas over the next few years?
I expect our private client business to grow. For non-contentious work, such as tax and trust advice and complex probate cases, we already have a very strong national reputation. We are now developing a very strong profile for litigation in these areas as well. Our Will and Trust Disputes Team is firing on all cylinders and growing.
Our charities expertise is well known and the challenge here is to maintain our prominent position in this competitive marketplace. Given the strength of our Charities Team, I am in no doubt that this challenge will be met.
We advise on all sorts of property matters, both contentious and non-contentious, and our farms and estates work is particularly well regarded. I expect this to continue to provide a significant contribution to our overall turnover.
Albeit that our reputation was founded on private client work, the commercial team has always played an important role in our success and it has frequently punched above its weight, helped no doubt by the fact that the four commercial partners have London backgrounds. We are aiming to develop all parts of our commercial practice.
How closely do your London and Wiltshire offices work together?
There is a close working relationship between the two offices. Our business model is based on our ability to source work in London (or service the client facing part of the instructions there) while having some or all of the work done in Salisbury. Clients appreciate the logistical flexibility which this allows and the costs saving which can often be produced.
Some of our lawyers split their time between Salisbury and London and this certainly helps to foster the connection between the two offices. Video conferencing also shortens the distance, although I am firmly of the view that it is not a replacement for face to face contact.
Would you ever consider opening in another UK city?
I wouldn’t rule out the possibility at some point in the future, but we have no plans at the moment to extend our presence into other cities. The Salisbury/London arrangement works very well for our clients and for us. Transport links are good for our two locations. We act for many clients in the three counties close to Salisbury, namely Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset. Some of those clients who have London interests are happy to see us in either location. A few of our London clients like to visit us from time to time in Salisbury because it provides the perfect excuse for a trip to one of the most attractive cathedral cities in the south of England.
Are mergers and acquisitions part of your strategy moving forward?
We are always looking for good lawyers and I am very willing to contemplate the acquisition of teams of good lawyers, where such acquisition is likely to fit well with our existing areas of practice. This approach has worked well for us in the past, particularly in private client and in respect of legacy work for charities. Merger is much more challenging because of the difficulty of finding a really good fit both in terms of clients and culture. Nevertheless, it is not ruled out for us as an option and I am always on the lookout for interesting and promising opportunities to develop Wilsons in the right way.
What’s the biggest challenge the firm currently faces?
Information technology poses a big challenge for Wilsons along with every other legal practice. It provides great opportunity for streamlining how we do business and enables us to be more and more responsive to the needs of our clients. However, most of the work we do still relies on the important personal relationship between one of our lawyers and our client. So the challenge is to make sure that this personal connection is not degraded by technology but is, in fact, enhanced.
Along with opportunity, information technology also creates significant risk for law firms. With nearly 300 million records leaked last year and over $1 billion stolen, the number and gravity of cyber attacks is increasing year on year. The challenge is to strike the right balance in managing the burden of technological risk so that client service can continue to improve.
Where would you like the firm to be in five years’ time?
I would like Wilsons to have enhanced its reputation in every single one of our practice areas; to have become more flexible and resilient to cope with changing market conditions; and to be highly rated nationally as a good place to work.
What makes Wilsons different?
For clients it is the combination of London quality work and service from a friendly Salisbury firm. For those who work at Wilsons, it is being part of a progressive business which strives hard to develop the full potential of its people.
Finally, have you still got career goals that you personally want to achieve?
I am completely focussed on the rest of my term as managing partner which takes me to the end of April 2019. Notwithstanding the ambitious plans I have for the business and my commitment to the implementation of those plans, I need to find space to relax by spending time with my family and by playing guitar with my band, The Lawbreakers.