Discusses taking over the firm, its culture, working in the North East and being named ‘Regional Team of the Year’
How has it been since you took over as managing partner last year?
Interesting! No one day is the same and there are a number of different strands to the role: management of the firm (finances, people, ops), spending time with and listening to clients and our people and strategic planning. I have also maintained a fee-earning role (though reduced, obviously) because I don't want to lose touch with the client experience and also with what our people are doing on a daily basis. If I did no client work at all then I would worry about becoming removed from what it is actually like to service clients and become out of touch with what they want/ need. This presents a real challenge, though, as the business often needs me at the same time as clients. I do my best to get it right.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Working out the priorities for the business. I am an ideas person. There are so many things I would like to consider, trial and do but I think change should be gradual so I have had to temper my enthusiasm and not get carried away.
What have you most enjoyed?
Having the opportunity to spend time with more of the firm’s clients and find out what they think of us (and lawyers generally) and getting to grips with all the workings of the firm and where I think improvements can be made.
How are things changing under your leadership?
There are no big changes. My predecessor, Steve McNicol, who is still in the business did a fantastic job in getting the firm’s culture right. This means we have a fantastic team of people who provide a top rate service for clients and are keen for the firm to succeed.
What is changing rapidly is our market and like all professional services firms we need to adapt to that quickly. I want us to be ahead of the field not waiting to see what other firms do. Any changes will be as a result of that market demand.
We have done a lot of work on improving our own efficiency and offering clients better pricing models and this work will continue. It isn’t about systemising everything we do and making it less personal but there are clearly aspects of any client matter that don’t need high-level, costly expertise. It’s about providing the service to the client it needs for value-for-money rates and organising ourselves internally to ensure we make a healthy profit doing it.
What’s your medium to long-term vision for the firm?
To be the leading NE law firm for business. Without doubt we are one of the leading firms in the NE for business and have been for some time but I want us to be THE leading firm. I have to be clear that this doesn’t mean the biggest. Our current size (140 people) and one-office status gives us a major advantage in being able to service clients: we have the necessary strength in depth but we all know one another very well and work closely together and we can adapt/ change more easily. Our vision needs to fit what our clients are demanding: high levels of service at competitive, value for money rates. Pricing and efficiency are key.
You have a really strong presence in the NE but would you ever look to open in another region?
We have no plans to open offices in other regions but will continue to listen to clients. We have made an active choice not to join that race. We have clients all over the country and internationally and we listen to them in terms of what they need. Our views (backed up by our discussions with clients, potential clients and business partners) is that opening other offices generally leads to an increase in fees and less flexibility on pricing models, a dilution of and inconsistency in a firm's service and culture and poorer communication within the firm. Newcastle has great transport links and we can be with clients very quickly if it’s needed. Technology makes physical location less and less relevant.
What are the growth areas for you as a business?
We are seeing strong growth in our social housing/ registered provider work and in our dispute resolution work. The NE is a centre for innovation and digital start-ups and we are seeing interest and growth in those areas. We are constantly evaluating future growth areas and are working on some exciting initiatives at the moment - watch this space!
Muckle was recently named ‘Regional Team of the Year’ at the SJ Awards. BCL's director Vicky Clark was a judge in this category and was very impressed with your generous contribution to your local community.What sets you apart?
We have a fantastic culture. We have a strong one-team ethos centred around clients and the service they need and we contribute a lot to the local community. Our motivation isn’t profit or PEP, it’s working with and helping clients and giving back to the community. We strongly believe (and have seen) that profit comes through if you get those things right and create the right workplace for your people.
What’s the best thing about doing business in the North East?
It is a relatively small, friendly community with a strong sense of local pride. People want to buy locally if they can and will use a NE law firm wherever possible. There are no airs and graces. People aren’t impressed by stuffiness dressed up as professionalism. They want to deal with real people. Generally you will be judged on your talent, service and pricing.
What drives you personally?
I have been asked this question a lot over the last 12 months. I think what drives me is wanting to do a good job and be a good person. I am all about fairness really and sometimes I can be too idealistic about that. I will always look to do the right thing. I am very self-critical and will always look for ways to do things better. Feedback from clients and our people drives me, good or bad.