10/10/2016 by Katherine Memery
A Commercial Litigator by trade, Simon spent many years with well-respected Manchester firm Pannone, as they then were, including stints as Head of Commercial Litigation and Director of Business Development. He moved to Oxford-based Darbys in 2007, becoming their Managing Partner and, ultimately, taking them to the point at which they were the fastest growing law firm in the country by 2013. When Darbys were acquired by Knights at the outset of 2016, Simon stayed on as Client Relations Partner before recently establishing McCrum & Co.
What’s your favourite food and drink combination?
Jennings Cumberland Ale, and Steak Pie, in The George, in Keswick in the Lakes.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
I originally did a History degree but none of the ensuing job options lit my fire. My friend’s brother had also done History and he was a lawyer, so I asked him how he got there, and I discovered the change-over course you could do. So it hadn’t been a life-long dream, more part of an awakening in me that I wanted something with purpose and direction.
When you joined Darbys in 2007 they were quite a different proposition to the firm that they had become by 2013, the then fastest-growing in the country. What was it that drew you to the challenge in the first place?
Prior to joining Darbys, I had been at Pannone. There, under Managing Partner Joy Kingsley, in a hugely successful and fast-growing environment, I was given a number of management roles where I had a lot of great experience and good results. For example, I led the Commercial Litigation team which was in itself bigger than many firms. I also had a firm-wide marketing role. Putting all of this together, the next logical step was to manage an entire firm.
The first opportunity I had was with Darbys, one of the hub firms to whom we had franchised the Connect2Law scheme. Unusually for a law firm back in 2007, they were going to the market to look for a new Managing Partner and I got the job. I hadn’t realised what a challenge the firm would be, but with a lot of hard work and difficult decisions, we got there.
Darbys were acquired by Knights at the outset of 2016 in one of the largest transactions within the regional legal market in the last year, whilst two others firms at which you spent a sizeable part of your career at, Pannone and Cobbetts, have also been the subject of takeovers. Do you see this M&A trend that has been prevalent within the legal profession in recent years continuing?
I don’t know if it’s all down to me (of course it isn’t!) but another firm I worked at, Peter Rickson & Partners was also taken over – by DWF. There were vastly different reasons for the takeovers that you list – and for a range of other takeovers that have taken place around the country. Some are “distress” situations, others are strategically advantageous.
The decision to proceed with the Knights’ acquisition of Darbys was an easy and quick one – we looked at their culture, direction, and speed of travel, along with their qualities as a law firm and as a business, and we very much liked what we saw. It was a horse we very much wanted to back, so there were no discussions about what the merged firm would be called, for example – we all wanted it to be Knights all the way. The 9 months I spent alongside and then with Knights were a great learning experience for me, on top of the 20 or so years of management that I already had under my belt.
You’ve recently established McCrum & Co. What’s the plan for the next 12 months?
The Darbys business and the Darbys clients and people are now in a great place. This is the opportunity for me to move into an area I have long thought about – working with other law firms and their people to refine their direction and to increase their speed of travel. Anyone in law firm management knows that there are issues (big, and bigger) that crop up all the time. I read an article for aspiring Managing Partners in the legal press where one Managing Partner hit the nail on the head when he said: “If you are about to become Managing Partner, get your family and friends round this weekend – it’ll be the last time they see you laugh”.
I have dealt with thousands of these issues and I want to help firms to put those fires out and to then work with them to concentrate on other, more productive fires. I want to work with firms to get them into great business shape and to get their people firing all cylinders.
What do you think are the biggest challenges to the legal profession?
Crikey – where do I start?
The best place to start is to look at the challenges that could switch a firm’s lights off – PII claims, cash problems, and cybercrime. After that, protecting margins and making a profit (and getting paid) rank highly.
Talent retention in the present market is a constant challenge as firms are busy and the market is offering high salaries. Big corporates with their deep pockets who want to take over the legal market are a challenge, but they’ll struggle to take satisfied clients off a firm. This is yet another reason for focusing on your existing clients rather than looking to grow by acquiring more and more clients who are being offered lower and lower prices.
And finally, where is your favourite holiday destination?
As a Managing Partner for the last 10 or so years, I have been to many destinations, but none of them felt like a holiday. I am looking forward to a holiday – it doesn’t matter where the destination is.
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