fivehundred magazine > Interview with... > Robert Brodrick: Innovation from a different perspective

Robert Brodrick: Innovation from a different perspective

Payne Hicks Beach’s new chair explains the importance of being empathic when acting for ultra-high-net-worth clients, and why lawyers should put themselves in their clients’ shoes

What made you want to become the new chair of Payne Hicks Beach and what do you hope to achieve?

It is a great honour to be responsible for a firm that has been around for almost 300 years. The private client landscape has altered dramatically in the last 25 years with an explosion of private wealth, and at the same time, the firm has evolved.

We continue to provide top-class private client and family advice as well as property, dispute resolution, employment, and corporate. However, we now provide new services such as reputation management and citizenship and immigration advice as well. My job as chair is to make sure we do everything to service the needs of ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) clients and to attract the best practitioners to so that we can continue to attract the best clients.

How will your role/involvement in client-facing work change upon becoming chair?

I will be supported by Dominic Crossley (head of dispute resolution) and Jonathan Gatward (head of corporate) on our new management board, and we have an experienced director of management, Virginia Farquharson, who has run the firm for several years, so it will be business as usual for my clients.

What’s changes do you hope to make in the firm that will benefit clients?

I want to focus on excellence and client service. We are not planning any drastic changes.

What does Payne Hicks Beach do differently from its competitors?

We’ve been in the business of looking after clients for almost 300 years so we understand the concept of long-term client relationships – I think that is what we do best.

What does innovation mean to Payne Hicks Beach? How can firms generally be better at innovation?

For Payne Hicks Beach innovation is about responding to clients’ needs – too often firms look at everything from their own perspective. When you are dealing with families and individuals you have to put yourself into their shoes.

Is technology changing the way the firm interacts with clients and the services it provides them?

Yes – the way in which we work since the advent of email has completely changed the solicitor’s job, and that has a knock on effect for support services, such as secretaries and IT. We can now provide electronic access to documents which not only applies to commercial clients but also to traditional landed estates who, for the first time, have access to documents that would previously have been confined to a strong room.

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

Empathy, expertise, and good value for money. These are all essential if you are to develop a long-term relationship with your clients and be able to add value.

What are the specific challenges of working for UHNW individuals as opposed to high-profile corporate entities?

Individuals are not answerable to shareholders or a board – they are able to make irrational or emotional decisions which can make advising them challenging as well as deeply rewarding because of the direct impact advice will have. This is why empathy is particularly important.

What are the biggest challenges facing firms of your size and specialty in the UK?

The ever increasing complexity of tax legislation is particularly challenging for the private client practitioner. The regulatory environment has also become more demanding.

What specific trends are you seeing in the legal services market?

It is always challenging to recruit good candidates and we are constantly on the lookout.

How does the firm retain talent in an increasingly competitive marketplace?

The quality of the work (and the clients) is a major incentive, as is the opportunity to work with some of the country’s leading lawyers in a collegiate and collaborative culture.

What do you look for in a lawyer wanting to make partner?

As well as technical expertise, I am looking for someone who is commercially astute and is able to generate work either from existing clients or by attracting new clients.

What are your firm’s policies on diversity and inclusion, as well as wellbeing?

We are committed to providing equal opportunities and the firm ensures that everyone is equally valued, respected, and treated with dignity and fairness. We have regular training on diversity and inclusion. We have also adopted an agile working policy to assist members of the firm to work from home.

What has been your greatest achievement, both in a professional and personal capability, to date?

Moving to Payne Hicks Beach in 2012 with my clients and followed by a small team of solicitors and trust managers from my previous firm was not only an achievement but also one of my best decisions.

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