A DAY IN THE LIFE OF: Simon Leighton, Managing Partner at Croftons...
My day really starts the night before when my jobs include cleaning school shoes, marshalling various pieces of ballet and swimming attire, and other necessary preparations for school and work the next day! With three children under the age of six, mornings can be chaotic at worst, rushed at best! I have a reputation for putting on my cufflinks and tie on the train platform in the morning.
I’m an involuntary early riser and both my wife, Esther, and I have to work hard to get us all out of the house on time. Esther is a qualified lawyer who took a career break to be a full time mother. She does a terrific job and I often marvel at all she achieves in a day between school runs and activities for the younger ones. Her organisational skills as a lawyer definitely show through!
I take the train from Adlington in Cheshire into central Manchester. It can be a quiet time for reading or planning the day although I often bump into colleagues and competitors on the train and it’s nice to catch up informally with them. I’m an iPad devotee so I keep on top of emails and legal updates while travelling, too.
I arrive at work by 9am, often spending the first hour with partners who want to discuss client matters, latest financial figures or business development opportunities. As specialist housing and regeneration lawyers, we are working in a fast-changing and competitive sector in which significant change is occurring. Our clients no longer have guaranteed sources of funding, so need to contain costs while meeting unprecedented demands for affordable housing. They also face a raft of legislation such as welfare reform which affects every aspect of their service. The core services we provide to the housing sector include; development and regeneration, commercial property, housing management and tenancy enforcement, employment, charging and securitisation.
Mid-morning I meet with my finance director, who is a highly experienced management accountant, to review the month’s income and costs, and to discuss the integration of a new team recruited from a competitor firm to provide an expanded service range at the suggestion of our clients. This team – all housing management and anti-social behaviour experts - has been in place for six months and has doubled in size, with work levels now at a more than acceptable level.
I next meet with my business development director and the tender’s client partner – a property and regeneration lawyer who, with her team has acted on around 100 schemes worth over £150m in a typical year. We are in the thick of a major tender and we debate the team composition, strategy and pricing model. This is our eighth tender of the year so far in the housing sector and an important opportunity for new business acquisition.
Lunch is here before I know it. In a typical week, I will eat a sandwich at my desk half the time and go out on other days. An example working lunch would be with our insurance brokers as we have been offered a deal from our existing insurers to renew early on the same terms as last year because of our excellent claims' record. Another day this week has seen a working lunch with our bankers. Yet another, a Trustees’ meeting for Ministry 2 Business which is a charity serving the Manchester business community.
This afternoon I visit a housing client at their offices. Three years ago, I instigated a formalised Client Feedback and Satisfaction programme, designed by our business development director who has won national and legal awards for such work. We take client relationships very seriously and ask for formal feedback annually and independently. As part of this programme, I then visit clients to follow up on any points arising and discuss their business strategy.
Back mid-afternoon for an interview for another property lawyer to expand our team further, and then I join the commercial real estate team’s monthly departmental meeting. On my way back to my office I drop in on one or two people and ask them how matters are progressing, such as a charging exercise we are doing for a housing client at present (which will bring our total to over £500m in securitisation schemes over the past five years).
My role involves ‘cross pollinating’ ideas and offering strategic input, as well as encouraging and motivating partners and team members. I genuinely encourage 360 degree feedback in appraisals, as well as taking a keen interest in audit visits by our IIP and Lexcel assessors whom I find refreshing in their willingness to help me ‘stand back’ from the detail.
Preparation for tomorrow’s meetings fills my final hour or so of the day as I am attending the Marketing Coordination Meeting (planning our key events for the national housing week in June which is a focal point for our clients and ourselves), meeting with our legal education provider, going through the year-end financial picture with our accountants (a firm specialising in legal practices and which has been refreshingly proactive) and attending a mentoring session. I have used mentors for about five years and changing the emphasis as my own role has changed. The skills and perspective three outsiders whom I trust and respect bring to me helps me guide the firm at a period of great change in the legal sector.
Normally I leave the office to be home in time to be with my children before they go to bed. I regard myself as enormously blessed every day I look at my wife and children. However, tonight I am attending a forum and dinner for managing partners of North West law firms. Our debate will focus on alternative business structures and non-traditional services which law firms may consider providing. It’s a lively debate with managing partners from large firms and smaller ones having strong views; I both listen and contribute.
I take a late train home, the children are in bed so I can look lovingly at them, and then enjoy a coffee with my wife to catch up on our own day’s activities. I think my day has been varied and busy but, by all accounts, hers is doubly so!