Discusses his forthcoming retirement, his drivers and his predictions for the future
Steven, what’s prompted your retirement?
One word: age. I am 68 now and having worked since I left school at 16, I think it’s time for someone else to have a turn. Spending more time with the family is a cliché, but it happens to be true, especially with five grandchildren – plus lots of travelling and theatre and lots more skiing and sailing and fresh air and generally enjoying the fruits of a long career.
The firm has gone through a huge evolution since you founded it 30 years ago so what’s been your highlight?
Difficult question; there were so many. The things I look back on with the most pride are the ways in which IBB has served so many people: private clients rich and poor, many of the latter of whom would not have had the benefit of high-level access to justice without our commitment to legal aid over the years. Commercial clients who say we are an integral part of their team and that we have contributed to their success. And I also feel immensely proud when I see young lawyers who started their careers with us and have now gone on to become either partners with us or with other well-known firms or have moved successfully into leading in house counsel roles. None of this seemed possible when five of us huddled together over the chemist shop in the High Street and now I like to think it’s only the beginning.
How do you think your successor, Joanna DeBiase’s leadership style will differ from yours?
Joanna DeBiase is an excellent successor and has already been in post since 1st May 2016. Many would consider my style to have been quite directive and, despite my MBA training, still with a tendency to “command and control” especially when needed in the early years of the firm’s life cycle and in times of emergency e.g. the financial crash of 2008. Jo has a much more collaborative approach and with a far more mature and experienced partnership group behind her, IBB will benefit greatly from that change.
Has your retirement prompted any other internal moves or restructuring within the firm?
Not really. The transition planning has taken place over a period of about three years and the basic structure of the Firm has proved very adaptable. Obviously, with Jo moving up from director of operations and COLP, there has been some post filling to be done, but with strong leadership at partner level in each of our professional service groups, wider internal moves have not been necessary. What is new, is my transition to the newly created senior partner role. This has proved quite interesting. As the firm has grown, it has become apparent that there is benefit from having a senior partner or chairman who is removed from the line management chain to act effectively as a non–exec director and an ambassador for the firm. When I step down from the role, it is definitely something which the firm should consider continuing.
What’s driven you in your career?
A belief in access to justice for all who need it and a sense of wanting the law to be made to work for everybody. Too often the law is seen in a negative way and as either oppressive or a barrier to getting things done, but we live under the rule of law (thankfully and despite what has recently seemed to be attempts at the highest level to subvert that rule) and our job is to use that framework to protect and further our clients’ best interest. I never intended to be a lawyer but over the last 40 years it has provided me with intellectual, emotional and material benefits I did not dream of and for which I am immensely grateful.
Will you be involved in the firm post-retirement?
I have no plans to be. The firm is more than equipped to survive and succeed without me.
What will you miss most?
The perpetually stimulating challenge of leading and managing a regional law firm. Winning for a client, getting new business, recruiting new people, promoting young lawyers, watching the billing clock go round at the end of the month, hitting financial and strategic targets. The list is endless and proves to me that I have been fortunate enough to have worked in an environment that has its frustrations (my goodness it has its frustrations) but ultimately in one which is enormously fulfilling. It is true that occasionally one feels like being the only lamp post in the street of a thousand dogs but the feeling doesn’t last long!
The legal services sector has also changed hugely. What are your predictions for the market and for law firms in general?
I was once told that a managing partner needs crystal balls. Taking that in the sense of being able to see into the future, how much more successful could we have been. There will always be a need for lawyers and provided we change and adapt to new ways of delivering legal services, the profession will thrive. What I wish we would do is take the challenge to the accountants. We have ceded so much territory in the way of professional services to them over the years. We should be the pre-eminent advisors to private clients and to businesses instead of being the emergency service to be used on a transactional basis. We should be sitting on the boards of major companies as trusted advisers and not hiding in our office waiting for a phone call and a tiny bit of business. If we can achieve that role as primary adviser to our clients we could achieve so much more.
What’s the plan after you retire?
For me – see one above. For the firm, bigger, brighter, bolder, better.
Finally, any words of wisdom for the readers of The Brief who have followed your career and seen IBB Solicitors continued growth?
Have a plan. Be flexible but determined in execution. Mind the cash – anyone can make a profit – but businesses fail because they don’t manage their cash. Trust and respect people but don’t accept anything but the highest personal and professional standards. You must set those standards. Value yourself. Remember the old maxim those you meet on the way up you may well meet on the way down. Above all – have fun while you’re doing it.