Realm talks to... Chris Heitzman

Posted on 17/12/2019 by Katherine Memery

In this edition of ‘Realm talks to…’ we spoke with Chris Heitzman, Partner in the Highway Claims team at Knights plc. We asked Chris about Knights’ innovative way of working, who has inspired him career-wise and his team’s plans for 2020.

Since you joined Knights at the end of December 2017, your team has grown significantly – did you expect the Highways Claims Department to grow so quickly so soon?

What we’ve done so far is just the start. We have spent the last 2 years in a constant growth phase for this part of the business by delivering something different to everyone else in the sector. Our offering is a unique combination of specialism and expertise, people and price. Knights’ unique corporate structure and re-investment of profits, means it is able to scale-up fast to match demand. We knew that we could grow this area of the business quickly - the only question is the pace of growth. We build-in capacity so that we are always resourced up for the next growth phase ahead of time.

At Knights, I understand there are restrictions on your lawyers’ level of utilisation. Why is this the case and how does this affect the service you deliver to your clients?

We don’t set billable time or billing targets for our professionals. We do this deliberately to allow them to focus on being where the clients need us to be, and doing what the clients want us to do. It also drives the right behaviours in individual projects or jobs. Too often when lawyers have a daily time recording target of, say, 6 hours a day, their focus is where to record 6 hours that day. That might lead them to, for example, draft a witness statement on a case, even if that really isn’t what the client would choose to have them do. We would rather work on 4 settlements if that is the client’s bigger priority of the day, even if that yields only 4 hours’ time. It also encourages genuine teamwork, because professionals aren’t holding on to work purely for the sake of their own targets.

Does the innovative nature of the business make any difference to how your team are run or managed?

Knights is a business that does law. So many law firms claim to be business-like or entrepreneurial, but none are even close to Knights. The difference is transformational.

Who has been your biggest career inspiration?

I have taken inspiration from everyone I have worked with. If you combine the best bits of working style, culture, performance and everything else, you’re on a greatest hits tour. But there are lessons not just from those you’ve worked with within your own sector; a good leader takes inspiration beyond his or her own sector. I have always admired those with a clear vision, and those who are prepared for every eventuality. In litigation, clients want a clear view, and we win by having prepared to succeed in a battle our opponents haven’t even yet anticipated.

What was the last book you read?

To Hell and Back, by Ian Kershaw. Just 100 years ago, a single lifetime for anyone lucky enough to live that long, the world was reeling from its first global conflict. There wasn’t much positivity until a second world war, and then life was tough for generations in its aftermath. We don’t know how lucky we are living in free, democratic and relatively very affluent times. I spend my working days asking how the team can be even better, but it’s important to sometimes also appreciate what we have.

What are your plans for your team at Knights as we go into 2020?

To do even more. One thing I’ve not found inspiration from in law is when firms or teams within firms give up and consolidate. I can’t imagine ever lapsing into that hazard. There’s always plenty to do and my motivation grows rather than diminishing daily.

About Chris Heitzman

Chris is the head of the Highways Claims team at Knights plc. He has specialised in commercial litigation and commercial insurance for over 15 years. Based in Knights’ Wilmslow office, he acts for corporates, insurers and public sector clients.

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