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Decentralised power control ‘fundamental’ to global law firm success

Leadership 'is about making other people successful', says Duncan Weston 

2 October 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Global law firms should empower their business units to autonomously manage their own operations, CMS Cameron McKenna's managing partner has said.

Speaking at the Future of Law Summit earlier this week, Duncan Weston said that decentralising power control is important as his firm seeks to grow as a business globally.

"The way we have run the firm - I think this is the challenge we have going forward as we get bigger - is to effectively decentralise our power control," he said.

"Looking at different cultures, different partnerships around the globe, empowering those businesses as units - a bit like a company empowers its subsidiary to be successful and profitable and to manage its operations within that business - is fundamental, and then having the ability to collectively take the whole organisation in the same direction, allowing them to be autonomous within those operational roles."

Weston said that, among the approaches which the firm took to achieve global growth, which at the time were "quite difficult - certainly in the UK" was enlarging the firm's board from four to around 20 people.

"It meant that the debate on those boards was quite vigorous at times and it also meant that the management team had to be very well prepared when they hit that floor," he reflected.

Board members who make proposals "can't leave the floor until everyone in the room agrees with you".

He admitted that this is sometimes difficult to achieve and can take a long time, but that it makes implementation of decisions much easier later.

"And then you take that a stage further into the international business where you do exactly the same thing - a larger board representation for all of the countries, with the same process, and then the implementation piece becomes successful," he said.

"I've seen the firm grow from being number 452 to number 6 in the world like this."

Weston said that, for him, leadership in law firms is "all about making other people successful", adding that, the more people there are, the harder it gets.

"My job is quite simple: I've just got to make them all very, very successful. It doesn't really matter what happens to me - that is the task of a good leader.

"You've got lots of people globally and you've got to find ways to bring them with you to be successful."

Weston, who trained in both law and business management, said that having a business mindset is key to being successful as a managing partner.

"I really believe the law is a business and that is really why I ended up being managing partner," he said.



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