Christopher Saul, senior partner at Slaughter & May...
Christopher, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for The Brief. Firstly, can you give us a quick rundown of your career to date?
I joined Slaughter and May in 1977 as an articled clerk (trainees were called articled clerks in those days) having completed a Law degree. In 1979, I qualified into one of the firm's commercial groups and worked on a range of corporate, financing and securities matters over the following seven years. I was made a partner in 1986. I continued to work on a range of corporate, financing and securities matters and spent three years in New York between 1991 and 1994 at the small office which we had there at the time. I became head of corporate in 2004 and senior partner in 2008.
It's been reported that Slaughter & May lawyers are trained as 'generalists' so why does the firm take that approach with its team development?
Yes, we like to train our young lawyers as "generalists" - or "multi-specialists" as we tend to describe them given that law increasingly involves a range of specialisms. We take this approach for two reasons:-
(a) we believe that it helps our young lawyers to develop real legal dexterity and makes them better practitioners. In some ways it's like going to the gym every day to ensure that you are in shape; and
(b) we also believe that it helps us all to become "advisers" rather than "technicians". Individuals working at our clients often have to cover a broad waterfront of topics and we believe that we will be better equipped to advise those individuals if we too have a broad knowledge base.
Which parts of the business are you looking to invest in over the coming years?
Competition, Disputes and Investigations, Financial Regulatory and Infrastructure, Energy and Natural Resources have been important growth areas for us over recent years and we would look to continue building our capabilities in those areas. Needless to say, we will do that without diminishing our focus on all our other areas of practice. It is an ever-more complicated and demanding world out there!
Can you tell us a bit about the firm's international expansion strategy over the past few years? And what the future might look like?
Our core approach when working on cross-border matters is to link arms on a seamless basis with other leading law firms around the world. We believe that this delivers quality, genuine depth of local regulatory feel and choice to our clients. This is an approach which we plan to keep nurturing and developing. At the same time, we are delighted with our offices in Brussels, Hong Kong and Beijing. Brussels is clearly important in competition law terms and Hong Kong and Beijing represent our Asia hub. We have recently announced three new partners in the Hong Kong office which is a sign of our commitment to the Asian market.
Did the financial crisis change how Slaughter & May operates? If so how?
Interestingly, the financial crisis played very well to our practice strengths. The "multi-specialist" approach meant that we could respond proactively to some very difficult new challenges faced by our clients. In addition, we did not need to make any redundancies in our legal team as we were not specialised in areas that were laid low by the financial crisis (such as acquisition financing). Accordingly, we did not have to make any significant changes to the way we operate as a result of the crisis.
In five words, why do clients choose Slaughter & May?
Quality, Creativity, Judgement, Energy, Touch.
In your opinion, what makes a good lawyer?
To be a good lawyer I believe that you need a combination of great legal skills and great communication skills. Legal skills help you to define the problem and find the solution whilst communication skills allow you to articulate the problem clearly to your client and then give them resonant advice as to the solution. The best lawyers make the incredibly complicated seem really simple!
Where do you think the firm will be in 10 years time?
We have been very gratified to observe, over the last ten years, the attraction which our distinctive approach has for clients and colleagues. My hope and expectation is that that distinctive approach, built on top-class lawyering and strong relationships with the very best lawyers around the world, will continue to prosper over the next ten years.
Finally, what are your own career goals that you still want to achieve?
This is an amazing firm and I have been blessed. The chance to do a rather different job in the firm which you love, and at which you have always worked, is an extraordinary privilege. When I leave, I would like some form of continuing involvement in the business world (as this has been a fulfilling part of my legal role) and also an involvement in some business completely outside the City - something to do with cars perhaps (I love cars) or maybe a pub in Shepherd's Bush.