Claire Clarke

Claire Clarke

Managing Partner at Mills & Reeve

Discusses running a multiple office firm, current challenges and aiming for £100m turnover

How easy is it to juggle your management duties alongside your client work?
Sometimes juggling both can be challenging! I have a great team around me both on the management side and also in relation to the client facing work which is essential to make this work. I make sure all client facing matters have a team the client has trust in and is used to dealing with, meaning I can keep involved and add value particularly at the strategic end but the client knows and can quickly get hold of at least one other key person who will make sure we deliver outstanding advice and are responsive and available whenever the client needs us.

How closely do the various Mills & Reeves offices work together?
Many of our teams are based across different offices but are very used to working together as a single seamless team on projects. We seek to foster a collaborative culture across the firm, taking into account the needs and differences of each of our sectors and markets. We know, for instance, that what works in Cambridge won’t necessarily be successful in Manchester, so we always strive to make the most of our local culture and knowledge, while still retaining open communications between the whole firm.

We have regular firm updates and we take it on the road to all of our six offices, with either Justin (Ripman, senior partner) or me together with other colleagues talking to as many people as possible about the business, letting them know where we are, and what their contribution means to us and taking on board their views together with hearing what is going on in each office. It’s important to make sure all our colleagues are engaged across all of our offices and we work hard to make sure this is the case.

I also meet all of the new joiners to Mills & Reeve across the business at every level. I feel it’s not only important to be visible and accessible but also useful to me to meet them and understand, for example, why they joined Mills & Reeve and how they are finding working for us. I believe they find it valuable too.

Are there plans for any more office openings in the next 12 months?
We have no current plans to open any more offices in the next 12 months. We feel our six offices give us great national coverage and our London office gives us a base for our international clients and networks.

Are mergers and acquisitions part of your strategy moving forward?
As part of our 2020 strategy we plan to grow all of our offices. Our strategy includes each of our offices outside becoming a regional powerhouse by growing our sector and market presence. We plan to leverage our London office to grow our market position in London in each of our sectors. So we are open minded and we would consider mergers or acquisitions as a means of achieving that growth strategy but mergers and acquisitions are not an aim or objective in themselves.

What’s the biggest challenge the firm currently faces?
Probably common with most law firms and businesses the uncertainty created by the UK’s vote in the EU Referendum to leave the EU is probably the single biggest challenge facing the firm at the moment. However we remain confident that our 2020 strategy is the right one. It will be even more important to keep focussed as part of our collaborative culture on where the uncertainty may create opportunities, for example the currency weakness making the UK an attractive investment for overseas buyers or clients needing our help with supply chain, staffing and immigration issues.

We need to keep in close contact with our clients so we understand and can respond to their challenges, and above all in a midst of uncertainty and “maybes” make sure we deliver commercial, solution-focussed, pragmatic advice which is tailored to our clients' needs.

What sectors do you think will be strongest over the next 12 months?
We have recently reviewed all of our sectors and have re-focused some of these to make sure we maximise our opportunities by adopting a balanced portfolio approach and investing for the longer term rather than just on a short term basis. It would be fair to say sectors such as technology, health and charities may be less impacted by Brexit uncertainty than some of the others but our analysis shows opportunities for all our sectors to continue to grow over the next 12 months and beyond.

Where would you like the firm to be in five years' time?
We conducted a review of Mills & Reeve’s strategy for 2020 this year and the firm has a strong sense of direction, there is great ambition and energy and it is well placed to capitalise on some of its key differentiators – its collegiate culture, strong client relationships, collaborative approach and commerciality in delivering practical solutions-focused advice.

We have an ambitious plan to increase turnover to more than £100 million, develop a reputation for innovation, continue to be a great place to work and be viewed as a truly national leader with a global reach. We’ve just finished a very strong year for the firm, so are well on the way to achieving our goals.

What makes Mills & Reeve different?
In essence this is our collegiate culture. We always treat people fairly, with respect, as individuals. That ethos and our relative lack of hierarchy are real strengths. We don’t just talk about inclusivity, we try hard to enact it throughout the firm. We’ve been looking at our strategy for 2020 and rather than keeping it at board level, we set up working groups across the whole firm to involve a wide cross section of people. The groups include lawyers, partners, support staff, members of the HR and tech teams, and more. We’ve included people at all levels and as a result the whole firm feels part of the strategy. I want everyone to understand that strategy isn’t something that’s done to you. There are 910 people in the business and we’ll only get to our desired destination if everyone engages.

We try to create a culture where all team members feel valued and respected and we concentrate on motivating and developing our people and our leadership team places huge value on maintaining that culture.

This isn’t done just to keep employees happy, we know it’s important to our clients too. Sweating the assets doesn’t work for us as a long-term solution. We need a situation where people want to stay and develop with us. It gives clients the benefit of consistent, stable teams. Who wants a revolving door?

We’re very protective of our culture, we think it’s a differentiator. The clients see it in the way we interact with each other and with them and they value it. The same applies to our international networks and best friends. We create very strong client teams and networks which leads to a stronger more cohesive service to our clients. We achieve more by all working together.

Finally, have you still got career goals that you personally want to achieve?
Absolutely! My main goal for the next few years is to see the continued success of Mills & Reeve and the achievement of its 2020 strategy. Who knows after that!