Elliot Nash, a Consultant at Totum specialising in operations, transformation and change roles, talks to law firm CEO Sarah Walker-Smith about her lead role at Shakespeare Martineau. The future of law, she says, is there for the taking…

Driving a bus as fast and safely as possible having set its destination, whilst making sure it is heading where those on board want to go and ensuring the bus does not break down on the way! This is how Sarah Walker-Smith describes her role as CEO of law firm Shakespeare Martineau to the Totum team.

One of the benefits of being part of a business like Totum, which has been an integral part of the professional services sector for so long, is that we have been able to see the journeys many candidates have taken through their career. Sarah is a great example of this, known to Totum since 2004, when we placed her as BD/Marketing Director at Browne Jacobson. Since then, she has kept in touch as she has enjoyed a great career in the legal sector as a Marketing/BD Director, COO and now CEO.

Sarah did not have any legal experience prior to joining Browne Jacobson, still a rarity in most business services roles at the top levels, where she is the only non-legally qualified woman in the UK in her position as CEO of a law firm. This has shaped her thoughts around the future of the legal industry and the direction that she is taking the firm. Sarah’s strong belief is that the legal market needs a shake up and firms should not be waiting for the disruptors and accountants to change the model when the people in her firm can be the internal disruptors themselves.

Sarah is still able to look at her firm’s brand as someone who has worked outside of the partnership model, even though she has now worked in the legal sector for 17 years. The firm has taken a slight and planned step backward if The Lawyer’s top 100 ranking is to be believed, but she considers more than the snapshot of PEP as a marker of success, not least creating a long-term strategy.

The firm now uses three different scorecards to measure success, as well as an approach to budgeting which looks at things on a rolling quarterly basis, given the landscape is shifting so rapidly. Sarah and her team have put in place 12 measures for success across the business that consider people, transformation, clients and finance. She does not want the firm to look at the financials in isolation from happy people, happy clients and driving transformation as they all lead to one another. The Covid Pandemic has been challenging but Sarah has used it as an opportunity to ramp up the ambition of the firm and drive the strategy for growth forward with many changes kicked off in May 2020.

Sarah talks about encouraging her firm’s individual parts to stop trying to be everything to everyone and to sharpen their focus on being a “House of Brands”. This doesn’t mean becoming a boutique firm but creating a collection of brands/businesses that are separate LLPs that will run under their own banner with the Shakespeare Martineau brand being the “non-traditional” law firm for the Midlands while the others focus on complementary and specialist areas in personal injury, medical negligence or debt recovery via their Lime and Corclaim brands or different regions.

This breadth of service coupled with a strong regional presence will allow the group to really dig into their local markets whilst also having a national presence. One of the ways the new Shakespeare Martineau model will help this is in allowing the different LLPs to run in a way that works best for them. It is a step away from a long-established model in the sector and will mean that some of their brands will run very differently to the more traditional legal market.

This may be a step that has been taken by many non-law businesses. The advantage that law firms have, however, is the ability to utilise what works well in the existing partnership model but adapting it to other businesses and people. There can be no doubt that a partnership creates a unique culture and engagement within its brand, but with a £27billion legal market to go for, bringing in ideas and ways of working from outside the partnership model and creating a choice for both clients and employees may just give the best of both worlds.

Combining old and new models and bringing together the best of legal partnerships with corporate business practice is far from an easy proposition. But Shakespeare Martineau, led by the irrepressible law firm CEO Sarah Walker-Smith, is up for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead!

If you would be interested in finding out more about the latest trends in the legal and professional services sector, or would like to discuss latest opportunities in roles driving innovation, transformation and change, please contact Elliot at [email protected] 

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