Maurice Turnor Gardner
Clare has specialised in private client tax – protecting her clients against the “twin evils of the taxman and the errant family member” – from the start of her legal career, latterly leading the department at A&O.
A spell running the graduate recruitment programme in A&O was an important stepping stone on her path to management: “It was a big and exciting job. We were recruiting for the future, which during my tenure went beyond the UK and into the US.” Far from being a hindrance, she believes being young and female was an advantage. She could present a different face for the firm, beyond the traditional stereotypes.
When she first became a partner in 1985, she was aware that she needed to work hard: “I was told that I had been dealt a hand of red 2s and black 3s. I had to turn my practice into kings and queens.” She set about building her practice alongside that of her peers during a very hectic phase in the 1990s. New legislation opened up further opportunities and by the time the team demerged from A&O to form the new firm, it was in fine shape.
A new beginning
Clare, together with her other founding partners, established Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP in 2009, parting amicably from A&O, which had decided to move away from private client law. A&O helped out by providing rent-free accommodation in Ten Bishops Square for three months, plus business support. That said, it was an inauspicious time to launch as the world recovered from the financial crisis. The firm has thrived, however, doubling its workforce (from 23 to 50) in the decade since.
The types of management problems Clare deals with today are very different from those earlier in her career: “Although not an issue for our firm, but for the legal sector, harassment claims, for example, have become commonplace. Law firms are belatedly having to deal with things that other sectors have had to deal with before.”
24/7 client expectations are a notable challenge. Unusually for a law firm, Maurice Turnor Gardner is a majority female firm. Clare says they strive for a balance in supporting women particularly in those tough years where they are trying to juggle young children, build their career and meet the needs of the business. While it is important to facilitate remote working, the legal sector is driven by clients. “If a client is saying ‘I really need to speak to you now, then it’s difficult to say ‘well, I don’t work on Fridays,” she says.
Law has been a macho culture and Clare believes there has been too much perverse pride in pulling ‘all-nighters’. This doesn’t tend to be a feature of private client law, her specialism. However, part of the problem is that if a law firm doesn’t do its job properly, there are thirty others that could fulfil the brief.
“It’s easier in a large law firm. However, there are plenty of women and…increasingly…men, who say “I don’t want to work like this”. Technology allows this to some extent. The next generation expects more flexibility, but the problem is that people physically in the office can be left picking up the pieces.”
In terms of whether law firms should be run by professionals or practitioners, she says: “It’s a tough question. There aren’t many practices run by professional managers. It used to be that you lost the fee-earning capacity of some of your best partners and didn’t necessarily get the best managers.” She believes that law firms increasingly recognise that managing partners don’t necessarily need to be the most senior person or the most accomplished lawyer. “Law firms are looking at who can do the job best.”
Clare makes use of professional management – a CFO, for example. “None of us are well-equipped to take on the finance side. We also have a part-time HR professional on whom we rely very heavily.”
And her greatest challenge? “It’s all about the people. That doesn’t get easier, particularly when it’s an owner-managed business. Every individual at MTG is an important cog in the wheel. It’s all about how to get them turning in the same direction.”
Her advice is to tackle problems head-on: “If things go wrong, it tends to be quite obvious. It’s all about having the courage to tackle it early. It’s only likely to get worse and may develop into a systemic problem. Usually, you’re just prolonging the agony.”
“The advice I’d give to anyone is to stick to your guns. You really need to be courageous.”
By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.
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Peter Rolph is an owner, Managing Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution at leading Bournemouth-based solicitors Steele Raymond. The firm’s success has been built on a collegiate approach, with everyone working for the good of the firm and its clients, rather than for individual partners.