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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

Planning for change

Planning for change


Arc Pensions Law managing partner Rosalind Connor explains why over-preparedness can be a leadership flaw

There are few more challenging times to take over the management of a business than during a global pandemic, but that is precisely what Rosalind Connor found herself doing this summer.

She credits outgoing managing partner and Arc Pensions Law co-founder Chris Mullen for preparing her for the job, albeit with neither of them realising quite how trying the circumstances of her succession to the role would be. 

Fortunately, the decision for her to take over as managing partner was made more than a year ago. It meant there was plenty of time for Mullen to hand over. And as he remains at the firm as operations partner, he will continue supporting Connor as she remains a fee-earner as well as managing the firm.

Reflecting on the growth of the boutique pensions practice since it launched in 2015, Connor says the firm was “lucky” to have been led by a managing partner with genuine leadership experience from the start. Mullen had been senior partner at Pinsent Masons for nine years, before he and Anna Rogers established Arc Pensions Law.

Connor has spent half a year shadowing Mullen, including as second chair on forecasting and budgets, and is soon to prepare her first half-yearly forecast as lead. So, in one sense, she has been very thoroughly prepared.

On the other, she admits she has had to put some “fabulous ideas” on the back burner as a result of taking over in the middle of the covid-19 outbreak. Luckily, Connor is not an individual to be thrown off course by unexpected events.

“The thing you learn from raising children is, you do not plan!”, she jokes. “Actually, being a lawyer is a bit like that. When I started as a lawyer, a wonderful woman who was in charge of the trainees at the firm I trained at told us all, ‘you have to understand that this is a reactive job so you cannot plan your week. You think you know what you’re going to do and then stuff happens’.”

For Connor this means having an overall structure to the year where she knows, broadly, what will happen when but not getting so caught up in the detail that you forget to look at the bigger picture. 

“We’re in an uncertain time”, Connor concedes, “but there are lots of uncertainties in life anyway. It’s just they’ve been thrown in our face.”


Having occupied leadership positions in previous roles and sitting on various boards and committees, she adds: “I learnt very quickly that the one person you don’t trust is the person who knows what’s going to happen next.”

In other words, she is comfortable with uncertainty – a rare trait for a lawyer. Connor says she is safe in the knowledge that everything is, to a degree, uncertain. She takes some comfort in the fact that the impending post-lockdown recession, while likely to be the deepest in a generation, has at least come with some warning.

“We’ve been through downturns before, but this is a downturn that we know is coming and hasn’t happened yet”, she says. “What is really, really odd is that everyone expected lots of things to stop happening, but they haven’t. No one knows when. We just know bad times are coming.”

The majority of staff at Arc have been working remotely since lockdown began. However, Connor does not believe that remote working is a sustainable arrangement in the long term.

“We can get our tasks completed at home”, she says. “But there are all sorts of things about a business that happen less well at home and they’re the more subtle longer-term things. That’s why people are beginning now to say ‘I need to be with my colleagues’.” 

Connor says she is extremely proud of Arc’s work on the high-profile Littlewoods Pension Scheme deal that the firm completed during lockdown – not least because of how much more difficult such a project is when the team is not in the same room.

Led by the firm’s senior partner Anna Rogers, Arc provided legal advice to Littlewoods throughout the £930m buy-in deal with Rothesay Life over the summer. Connor says by the end of the project, it had involved five partners and five associates working on various different aspects at different points. 

“My goodness, the reason I’m proud of it is the fact that to work together under those circumstances is really impressive”, she explains. “You have to work really hard, thinking about how to collaborate with people. Even down to the fact that the person who is leading the project is less accessible than if they’re in the same office as you. Usually, if there are things you want to ask them, you pick a moment when they’re taking a break and go and ask them”, she says.

Instead she recalls the protracted process of phoning to ask quick questions and having to remember to call again if there was no answer. In short, an issue that could be resolved in a five-minute chat over the water cooler, may take a few hours under remote working conditions.

Even if you could get in touch with the person you need immediately, Connor feels the method of communication can lack nuance. “The phrase my husband uses – which I believe is a technology phrase – talks about technology having low emotional bandwidth”, she says. “I think that’s a lovely phrase. Phone calls don’t have as much as a Zoom call, and Zoom calls have less than being in the room with someone”.

In particular, it is hard to conduct the more sensitive conversations, such as performance reviews or critical feedback on a piece of work. “It’s so much harder”, Connor admits, “That’s why we’re all saying we need to find a way back to the office”.

That said, she admits the industry is now seeming a lot more comfortable with people working from home a little more often. Arc has an existing policy that enables staff to work from home for a day, if they have confirmed it is convenient with the team. 

Now she expects to revisit that policy to make it clearer what the parameters are. “We’ll probably have a minimum amount and certain days we ask people to come in when we’re back to normal. But I think all firms are now saying flexibility is fine if things get done. The problem is you don’t want people to lose engagement in the firm.”

The Arc way

Among Connor’s priorities as incoming managing partner, one that has not changed as a result of the pandemic is cementing the culture of the firm in a way that will give it continuity going forward.

In fact, as a result of working remotely she believes that cementing the values the firm has established among its 20-strong team, is more important than ever.

“One of the things that’s very odd with a new firm is cementing the culture. Usually a new firm has a great culture because it’s all new and very exciting. People joined because they like new and very exciting. So that’s a wonderful thing. And then, of course, it’s really, really easy to become complacent about that”, she says. 

“The danger is that in six to 12 months’ time, when we’re all working from home, and we haven’t bothered to bring things together we risk losing that cultural identity.” Moreover, Arc is currently recruiting and being clear on the culture of the firm is a key element of attracting the right people. 

A recruitment drive in the run up to a global recession may seem counter-intuitive but Connor is not expecting Arc to be affected to its detriment. “We’re not like litigators who always seem to do better in a downturn, but we have some things that happen anyway, and some things that only happen in a downtown”, she says.

“We are still in a growth stage”, she adds. Arc experienced a strong start to the financial year and Connor believes that will continue, but she says the ambition is not to achieve unnecessary scale.

“We’re not wanting to be a firm of 50 lawyers. That isn’t what we’re aiming for. I think we’re 17 lawyers at the moment and three PAs – we’re probably aiming at 25, maybe 30, lawyers”, she explains. “I think there is a terrible instinct among people running law firms to think that they have succeeded if a firm grows in terms of size, not in terms of profitability.”

In 2017, Arc succeeded in enticing a reputable pensions team from DLA Piper. Connor recalls the rare magic of finding a team of people who not only had the requisite talent to boost Arc’s existing offering, but the right outlook – they fit the culture.

The lateral hires increased the headcount considerably, adding partners Kate Payne and Vikki Massarano, along with three associates and a PA. A fourth associate also joined later on.

Recalling the thrill of that deal, Connor can see how some managing partners might get hooked on the excitement of team hires or mergers and acquisitions, but she is adamant that she won’t be seduced by the idea of growth for the sake of growth alone.

Connor says the right lawyers for Arc are enquiring problem-solvers. “It’s very common for lawyers to say, ‘my firm does X and therefore X is the right answer’, or to say, ‘the law says this, so I’m very frightened about thinking about what is right for my client’”, she says. 

However, Arc has the benefit of being a firm “with eight partners from seven different firms” – each of which may have taken a different approach to a given problem. It makes for a collaborative and creative team, who is able to bring a diversity of experience to bear.

“You discover sometimes there was something you thought everyone agreed on, where it turns out it was only your firm. And sometimes the things that you thought you were really out on a limb about, everyone agrees with”, she says.

“That’s really helpful for the client to hear because, when they’re trying to work out what risk to take, knowing that you think it’s all right, but a couple of partners see there is a real issue with it is actually very valuable.”

Sharing the load

Connor will continue to fee-earn as managing partner, and as a result management responsibility has been shared across several partners at the firm. Mullen, as mentioned earlier, is now the partner in charge of operations, while another partner is responsible for training and development and another for IT.

Arc has also always used a legal business-support provider, Kindleworth, to provide a lot of its back-office infrastructure, including the firm’s finance director and staff to run IT, billing and HR.

It means that while Connor has overall responsibility for overseeing the smooth running of the firm, the day-to-day management tasks are well covered. So, did she always aspire to be a managing partner or is holding onto the fee-earning work a sign that management is not her main calling?

“I don’t think I should ever give anyone careers advice because every step of my career I definitely didn’t want to do the thing I ended up doing, and was very happy doing”, she says. “Even down to the fact that I said I was definitely never having kids – they’re 16 and 19 now”.

Connor admits she didn’t even want to be a partner early in her career (although she also didn’t want to be a lawyer at one stage) but as time went on, she decided that there was a value to being in a position where you could influence change.

Management roles have been part of much of her later career. She was head of the European benefits group at Jones Day and had similar management roles at Taylor Wessing. She was also chair of the Association of Pension Lawyers between 2015 and 2017. She is a fellow of the Pensions Management Institute and was the immediate past chairman of its London committee.

As we know, Connor is not a fan of following a blueprint for life or business. “It’s never a good idea to plan what you will want in your career later”, she says. “What you think you want, and what you actually want in a role is very different.”  

Hannah Gannagé-Stewart is managing editor of Solicitors Journal