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Lawyers ‘can’t see the wood for trees’ in law firm management

'Somebody's got to see the future, the big picture,' says Simon Slater

28 July 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Law firms need professional managers who can provide a 'big picture' perspective on how they should be managed.

That's the view of Simon Slater, a marketing professional who in May 2014 became Thomson Snell & Passmore's first CEO.

He believes that being a non-lawyer professional manager enables him to provide added perspective on how to manage the UK's oldest law firm.

"I find that being able to see the wood for the trees is a really key point. Lawyers are not, they are almost the opposite - they are trained to do the opposite, they are trained to get straight to the detail," he told Managing Partner.

"But somebody's got to see the future, the big picture."

The ability to delegate is another strength which Slater believes he brings as CEO.

"I have seen in all sorts of professional practices a huge tendency for people who are control freaks to dominate - and in my book that is not good," he reflected.

"A big part of that is people are focused on the detail and on being in control of things.

"But, then you don't give people the freedom to develop their skills and responsibilities. So, I am a big believer in delegation."

For Slater, the key to law firm management is to simplify things as much as possible.

"Business is essentially quite a simple thing; the thing that complicates it is people," he said.

"I think law firms have the capacity to be overcomplicated.

"So, I try to simplify things wherever I can and to go back to what essentially the practice is. It all boils down to three things, in this order: colleagues, clients and cash. Nothing else matters."

Slater rejects the idea that this might be a rather simplistic view of law firm management.

"Some people criticise me sometimes for being overly simplistic, but you know, you can't have someone seeing wood for the trees and expect them not to want to simplify things at the same time," he said.

Steve Billot, managing director of the global restructuring advisory practice at Duff & Phelps, recently predicted that successful law firms of the future will have non-lawyer CEOs.

"Law firms think they are a profession, but they are a business - a professional business, but ultimately still a business," he told Managing Partner.

Billot believes that the bottleneck to change in law firms is partner decision-making.

"Lawyers just don't make good decision makers. If you ask them for advice, they will tell you what not to do, rather than what to do."

Apart from Thomson Snell & Passmore, law firms in the UK which have professional management include Birketts, Shakespeares, Wiggin, Mischcon de Reya and Parabis.





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