fivehundred magazine > Interview with: Andrew Leaitherland > Delivering value isn’t about ‘more for less’

Delivering value isn’t about ‘more for less’

DWF’s managing partner and CEO on rewarding lawyers based on merit, implementing the latest tech for the benefit of clients, and the power of partners’ buy-in

How would you define DWF’s culture and how important is that culture to you?

Culture is incredibly important. It sets the expectation for how our people work together and, in turn, how we work with our clients. Our culture is underpinned by our values which prioritise innovation, collaboration and high performance, and which give us a collective clarity of who we are. This has been a big part of our success in recent years, especially as we have become a larger, more diverse and more internationally focused business.

You’ve been described as ‘the person responsible for bringing the great ideas of the people at DWF to life’. What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that has benefitted clients?

I would highlight two significant changes from our recent past: international growth and Connected Services. Our international footprint has accelerated over the past three or four years and has given us a broader geographical reach, enabling a real step change in how we can service our clients.

We are now better positioned to meet their demands, wherever they are in the world. Connected Services consists of a range of professional, business or consulting services which are complementary to the traditional legal services offered by our other divisions. It allows us to provide multi-disciplinary teams to our clients in an integrated way and differentiates us in the market.

What are the biggest challenges facing UK firms of similar size and expertise to DWF?

Staying one step ahead of our clients and understanding the challenges of their sectors, while reacting and adapting to the pressures and changes of our own industry. Technology and the diversification of legal services creates more competition and pricing pressure, and all firms must contend with how to better harness new tech solutions while delivering value for clients.

It’s important to start looking outside of the traditional partnership and growth models and explore how we can adapt in order to stay competitive, attract talent in a crowded market and keep delivering added value for clients.

What do you think are the top three things most clients want and why?

Clients need to know you’re delivering value, but it isn’t about doing ‘more for less’ – you’ve got to demonstrate that you truly understand their business objectives and can identify and anticipate sector-specific challenges and opportunities; that you have a clear and commercially attractive approach to resourcing, whether that’s by using technology solutions in new ways or offering a flexible contracting or service delivery model; and that you’re genuinely driven to deliver beyond their expectations.

What about technology? Is it changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you provide them?

Technology is fundamentally an enabler, opening the doors for us to explore new types of solutions, solve problems more quickly, efficiently and cost effectively than before and ultimately offer a different experience to clients.

The key is to have a problem-solving mindset and look to understand where the application of new technologies can deliver competitive advantage to clients, rather than deploying the latest solutions just because you can, or because it’s different.

What is your growth strategy? Where does DWF go from here?

We are a client-led business, so our growth strategy is informed by how we can better service our clients while staying consistent with our culture and our delivering on own business needs.

We’ll continue to enhance our international presence, by further investing in areas where we have a presence as well as exploring new jurisdictions. This can be achieved by establishing a formal on-the-ground presence or through strategic partnerships with leading firms in key regions.

We’ll also continue to diversify our service offering through the ongoing development of our Connected Services offering as well as look to increase our investments in technology and data solutions.

You mentioned earlier the challenge of attracting new talent. What have you found is the best way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?

We want to attract and retain people who embody our values and who are committed to going further for our clients, so we have a clear focus on recognising and rewarding people based on merit, not by time served or any other measure.

We also believe that it’s important to recognise the wide range of contributions that our people make to the success of our business, not only financial but through their technical expertise, client service, innovation
and more.

Today’s lawyers are also keen to explore different ways of working, so it’s important to provide a diverse range of experiences and alternative career paths.

Finally, what’s surprised you most about running a firm?

How much effort is required to achieve collective buy in, but once it is there, how powerful it actually is. Also, how the importance of having a broader purpose – transforming legal services through our people for our clients – really galvanises our people.

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