Cripps Pemberton Greenish
Gavin’s most challenging project had absolutely nothing to do with law. It was moving 300 people into newly-built offices in 2016 following Cripps Harries Hall’s merger with Vertex Law in 2013: “Construction projects never run to time. The costs just escalate. You don’t get a phone call to say they’re running behind; instead, you find out when the due date arrives and nothing has happened! Linked to the office move, I ensured all our existing leases would be co-terminus so then the building wasn’t finished until a day before we were about to become homeless, it was horrible!”
This, Gavin suggests, is the type of event no amount of legal experience can prepare you for – even experience as diverse as his. He started his career as a litigation solicitor with a regional practice and covered multiple areas of the law – personal injury, road traffic, landlord and tenant and commercial disputes among other things. It was a broad grounding but didn’t cover how to re-house an entire firm.
Gavin had moved into management almost by chance. After his career in litigation, he had been working on the Solicitors Indemnity Fund Panel, which saw Cripps represent other lawyers in insurance-backed legal disputes. The group was representing all types of law firms, including many in the City, and it was a huge credibility boost to work with them. However, the work dried up as those same large law firms started to object to subsidising smaller players and the profession’s insurance was put to the open market. Gavin had led the project and suddenly found himself at a loose end.
Having moved into employment law and following some changes at the top of the firm, he was approached to take over management of the Corporate side of the firm in 2005. That ultimately led to him being elected as Managing Partner in 2013.
The firm has continued to flourish under Gavin’s leadership and he has enjoyed the journey: “The most rewarding thing is to see people develop and achieve their ambitions”, he explains. However, change has been a gradual process: “Lawyers are inherently cautious and risk-averse. Although there are forward-thinking lawyers, as a profession it can be slow to react to change and managing the disruption that goes with it.
“Bringing people along is a vital part of my role. Strategically, I’m lucky I’m able to see the way we’ve got to go and I don’t worry too much about the ‘what ifs’. We’ve hit problems along the way – but we’ve dealt with them.” Even with the nail-biting relocation plan, they managed to get the building up and running in time to accommodate the combined group.
The Vertex law merger was transformational and came only shortly after his election as managing partner. At the time, Cripps Harries Hall and Vertex Law were two of Kent’s best-known law firms and the merger created a major new practice with significantly increased reach across London and the South East.
Office space wasn’t the only challenge, though. Gavin recalls: “We had a fascinating time trying to amalgamate the two groups. IT kept us busy. One of the key elements we changed was to empower people at all levels and devolve a lot of decision-making down from the Managing Partner’s office. We now have many other professionals in the firm beyond lawyers. For example, the Innovation Team is led by a science graduate. These types of people bring much better diversity to our thinking.”
The flattening-out of the organisation has helped create mutual respect between lawyers and other parts of the business because each group recognises the contribution the other brings. Gavin believes that a Managing Partner needs to be full-time and committed. “It’s not something you can do in your spare time,” he says.
In the short-term, Brexit is a significant challenge with many of Cripps’ clients reviewing their business strategies. In the longer-term, he says, the firm needs to ensure it can grow in certain sectors and to invest in technology. He believes technology, and particularly artificial intelligence, could have a major impact on the profession.
Since joining the firm over 35 years ago, Gavin has reinvented himself several times: “The firm has changed so much from the business I manage now. That said, the core values remain the same. To my mind, it is about fixing things for clients rather than seeing the law as an end in itself."
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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