Mark Jeffries – senior partner at Mills & Reeve – talks his career, the firm’s growth, mergers & its new deal with FIDAL.

Mark, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for The Brief. First, can you give us a quick summary of your career to date?
It’s a man and boy story – I joined Mills & Reeve as an articled clerk in 1979, qualified as a commercial lawyer, became a partner in Norwich in 1985, head of that office in 1990, led our corporate services group across the then three offices of Birmingham, Cambridge and Norwich between 1996 and 2000 and was also head of the Birmingham office between 1998 and 2001. I was elected firm-wide managing partner in 2001 and after two terms in that role became senior partner in 2007. I’ve been very fortunate that some great opportunities have come my way as we have grown our presence across the country.

The firm has recently reported that revenue rose from £70.9m to £79.5m in the 2013/14 financial year. What’s been the secret to your success?
With our roots firmly in the East of England we have been very careful to target growth from new offices around sectors in which we can claim true national prominence – education, technology, healthcare, private wealth, insurance, agriculture and real estate. We are also developing our capability in new sectors such as food and drink, charities, and sport.

The merger with George Davies garnered a lot of publicity last year. How was the process and how has the integration gone?
The process was demanding but smooth. It has inevitably been challenging for our new Manchester colleagues but a few IT headaches aside we’ve been delighted with how the merger has turned out. We achieved the financial benchmarks for which we were aiming in the first year and are seeing some excellent opportunities for new work which neither M&R nor George Davies would have attracted before the merger.

Do you have any words of advice for firms looking at merger opportunities?
Be really clear about why the opportunity makes sense from a strategic point of view. Additional turnover is always attractive but will the underlying business enhance returns in the medium to longer term? It sounds obvious but you also need to ensure the two firms are a good cultural fit.

Can you tell us a bit about the deal Mills & Reeve has struck with FIDAL?
Yes, certainly. FIDAL is the largest law firm in France and we have been working closely with them on various client matters for the last couple of years. The deal builds on the existing relationship between the two firms. There have been more than 50 referrals between us in a variety of practice areas, including corporate and commercial, IT, intellectual property, employment, corporate tax and private client.
One of the most successful referrals led to our corporate team advising a French digital printing technology company, Global Graphics SA, on its conversion from a French company to a UK company, whilst maintaining its listing on the Euronext stock exchange in Brussels. We believe this is the first time this has been achieved.

Where do you think the main growth will be in the UK from a geographical point of view?
We are prioritising London and the north. Our family team, which is pre-eminent in the five cities it operates across the UK, has now launched a team in London, headed-up by pioneering family law partner Roger Bamber. We are also looking to broaden our private wealth offering in the capital. In the north our aim is to build our Leeds office up to the same full-service offering we now have in Manchester following the merger with George Davies last year.

What are the firm’s aims/ambitions for the next couple of years?
There’s a lot of ambition across the firm. It’s geared to both success within Mills & Reeve and benefits for our clients. Currently, four particular projects stand out:

(i) Building on our investments in our Manchester and Leeds offices to grow our presence, reputation and client base in the north;
(ii) Developing our presence in London, especially in the private wealth sector and for any other areas of the business where we decide we need to be physically located there;
(iii) Continuing international growth through best friend relationships - the strategy which led to our recent affiliation with FIDAL;
(iv) Delivering on the vital in-house projects we have underway focussing on effective working, partner development and client service, all designed to deliver a better service to our clients

What do you want to be in 10 years’ time?
The downturn in 2008 taught us that planning 10 years out can be somewhat perilous! In essence we want to be a major UK law firm carrying out world-class work for world-class clients. That should make us attractive to the best available legal talent.

What is your view on the rise of ABSs and their impact?
Although their overall impact has so far been lower than I expected they have been thoroughly beneficial for their disruptive effect. They have injected new energy into the legal services market and forced established players like us to become very focused and single-minded. Clients are benefiting enormously and will continue to do so I’m sure.

In your opinion what makes a good lawyer?
A good brain and the confidence to give advice (as opposed to explaining the law which is very different) coupled with the ability to see the wood for the trees and a good sense of humour.