Spotlight on Simon J Slater
Simon J Slater joined Charles Russell in 1994 as the firm's first Marketing Director and was promoted to Director of Operations with responsibility for leading all business services except finance, in 1997.
Since then he has had a varied career and is now a Non-executive board member at Cripps Pemberton Greenish and a Non-executive chair at Byfield Consultancy Ltd, a legal PR agency.
My time at Charles Russell Speechlys
In 1994, joint managing partners of Charles Russell - Patrick Russell and Mike Bennett - appointed me as the firm’s first marketing director. I had spent the previous five years with a quoted international real estate consultancy.
My years with Charles Russell were some of the happiest of my career. It was a transformative period defined by a new strategy, new office in Fetter Lane and a number of small mergers. These included Compton Carr (media practice), Baldocks in Guildford and the transfer of Norton Rose’s private client group. By 1998 the firm had doubled in size (by both headcount and revenue) and profitability followed suit.
At first I led a small and very capable marketing and business development team, but in 1997 I was promoted to director of operations with responsibility for leading all businesses services except finance (ably led by Andy Staite). It was reported at the time to be the first appointment by a UK law firm of a ‘COO’ and to this day I have no idea if this was actually the case. What it demonstrates, however, is that the firm was ahead of its time even 23 years ago.
There are two things I cherish most about my time with the firm: firstly the privilege of working with such a wonderful group of people - real characters; and secondly the fact that it gave me the platform for what followed.
I have had an extraordinarily varied and rewarding career since.
My career since leaving Charles a Russell Speechlys
With no intention of leaving Charles Russell, I was finally worn down by the persistent attention of Eversheds who offered me the opportunity to join a special leadership team charged with planning and implementing the 7-way merger to create the UK’s first national law firm in the year 2000. Needless to say, this became one of the biggest challenges of my career.
Mergers would be a continuing theme of the next 20 years. During this time, I spent half of my time in management and leadership roles inside legal businesses and the other half running my own business as an adviser to legal and other professional service firms.
My leadership roles included that of director of strategy with then newly formed Anglo/German firm Taylor Wessing (with a brief to help with integration and to create a coherent long-term strategy for the business), chief executive officer of Thomson Snell & Passmore (the world’s longest standing legal practice), and then CEO of Pemberton Greenish (now as a result of merger, Cripps Pemberton Greenish).
Co-founding an advisory business was a long-held ambition and my subsequent work with a diverse range of professional service firms provided me with some of the most satisfying moments of a varied career. Projects included merger related work, practice turn-arounds, strategic reviews, advice on governance and management structure, on talent management, and on brand positioning. Clients included global law firms, leading regional practices and smaller niche practices.
My current roles
Since completing the merger of Pemberton Greenish with Cripps a little over a year ago, I have embarked on the process of building a small portfolio of non-executive directorships. This is proving to be a most rewarding new chapter of my career, one in which I get to act as critical friend, sounding board, impartial adviser, leadership mentor and horizon scanner on behalf of the firms whose boards I serve. Having spent so much time in leadership roles myself, my remit is to support those who are now in the driving seat.
Alongside my executive career over the last two decades, I served as non-executive board member of a number of organisations including PKF Littlejohn and Guildford College Group.
My aim now is to add one or two more such roles to complete my portfolio.
What does the future look like?
If the last 25 years were interesting in terms of the changes we’ve seen in the management of professional practices, the next 10 years are set to be even more exciting.
In 1994, a desk top computer was still a novelty. Email was a novelty. Fax was common place having replaced telex a few years earlier. There was no (commercially available) internet. Dictation was onto cassette. There was no online banking, no smart phones though some people had PDAs (personal data assistants). Lotus Notes was a close as we got to a collaborative software platform (there was no document management software) and only a few of the largest law firms invested in it. Practice management systems were really just primitive financial accounting systems. In 1994, the only global law firm was Baker McKenzie and the word “global” wasn’t a thing.
We know where we are now, so what of the future? None of this is really new, but I firmly believe we will see yet more consolidation of the legal market. We will also continue to see new market entrants and the growth of alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), which already command almost a 5% market share. More firms will float to become PLCs, gaining access to capital for investment, and more firms will diversify to create multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs). Providers of legal services will increasingly be hybrid legal / tech businesses. As a result, we’ll also see some hybrid roles marrying legal expertise with data analytics and legal solutions engineering. AI will continue embedding itself in routine legal work and a time will come when we stop talking about it because it will become common currency (like email). Pricing of legal services will continue to evolve such that the hourly rate becomes less and less relevant, at least to clients.
The growth of AI and process automation will leave lawyers to concentrate on non-routine, more complex work and building relationships. This, together with working alongside a broader range of business professionals as equals, will enhance the quality of their working lives. Firms will be run as businesses, but they will also continue to become more diverse, inclusive and environmentally conscientious and, as a result of the dominance of women in the profession, become more family friendly.
A career in legal services will look very different during the next decade. And positively so. The future looks bright.