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Agent for change Mark Dembovsky leads Howard Kennedy into a merger

Combination with Finers Stephens Innocent to result in a £43m UK top-100 law firm

9 August 2012

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

London law firms Howard Kennedy and Finers Stephens Innocent plan to merge under the name of Howard Kennedy FSI by 1 November 2012. 

The two firms signed heads of agreement this week, following a unanimous approval of the proposals by both partnerships.

Howard Kennedy and FSI reported turnovers of £27.8m and £17.6m, respectively, in the past financial year. The combination will create a £43m top-100 firm with 264 staff and 87 partners.

The combined cross-disciplinary firm plans to compete with Mishcon de Reya and Fladgate for private client work. It says it will become the “pre-eminent legal advisor to entrepreneurs, wealthy individuals and families and their businesses and funders”.

Howard Kennedy FSI will be headed by non-lawyer chief executive Mark Dembovsky, who joined Howard Kennedy in January 2011. Paul Millett, FSI’s current managing partner, will join the combined firm’s management committee.

Changing directions

Dembovsky has introduced several key changes since his appointment. Under his leadership, Howard Kennedy has converted to LLP status – a significant move for a firm that had previously been against disclosing its year-end results, including internally to non-equity partners.

Dembovsky has also made it his mission to tackle disunity within the partnership and increase firmwide communication.

“Prior to Mark’s arrival, there were no partner meetings let alone any proper communication across all levels in the firm,” said a spokesperson for Howard Kennedy.

As CEO, Dembovsky has introduced greater transparency and regular meetings of key stakeholders. These include weekly management committee meetings, monthly equity partner meetings, quarterly all-partner meetings, six-monthly meetings for all solicitors and assistants, an annual general meeting for all staff, and lunchtime sessions with groups of people across the firm for fee earners and support staff.

Dembovsky also writes a weekly internal blog on everything he has been up to, from meetings with branding agencies to new hires to discussions with the firm’s banks and auditors. He also makes the effort to provide a personal touch by including special mentions for staff occasions (such as engagements and new births).

“Good leaders know where they want the firm to go and work to get others to embrace that direction,” said Joey Smith, chairman emeritus at US law firm Williams Mullen. (See Five keys to a successful strategic plan)

“The more partners are engaged with the firm’s future, the better they perform,” added consultants Rob Lees and August Aquila.

“To actively influence the partnership, managing partners need the help and support of partners who can influence other partners’ behaviours. Sometimes, that means the partners in managerial positions but, more often than not, it means the heavy-hitting client partners.” (see Crafting a future: How to create a truly compelling firm vision)

Dembovsky has also recently re-designed the firm’s client area to make it more inclusive, after receiving lawyer feedback that the firm’s meeting rooms no longer reflected well upon the firm. He said he tried to create a balance between “creating a space that was functional, comfortable, [and] contemporary but, given the current economic climate, not opulent for fear of sending the wrong message”. (See Designing success: How your office’s design affects BD)

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