Gowling WLG UK
Hugh Maule was no stranger to the inner workings of business when he took on managerial responsibilities at Lawrence Graham in 2006, just seven years after he’d been made partner. He’d already built considerable specialism in advising Main Market and AIM companies on strategy, M&A activity and fund raising.
Nevertheless, it still felt like a baptism of fire. He hadn’t run a team before and says it felt like ‘zero to 100 in one go!’: “An opportunity to apply to become the firm's managing partner presented itself out of the blue in 2007 very shortly after having taken a role to run the largest of the four divisions in the firm. And I took it! It was a very quick ascendancy!”
That said, Hugh knew the firm well, having spent his entire career there, and had always hoped to take on management responsibilities at some point. A course in career development had already galvanised his thinking and he started to see management as a potential career path.
He was managing partner from 2008 to 2014 when the firm merged with Wragge & Co with a second merger with Gowlings following shortly thereafter. In his time at the helm, Hugh worked under two separate senior partners and in very different economic circumstances. The first part was characterised by the financial crisis and its horrible legacy. “It put real strain on the firm,” he explains. “The crisis hit the volume of transactional work available and we had to implement a redundancy programme in early 2009, losing almost 50 people.”
It was a tough and emotionally draining time and Hugh credits his senior partner with huge leadership support. The choice the pair faced was clear – make redundancies or risk the future of the entire firm. They worked hard on the redundancy programme, trying to make it as fair as possible.
Hugh believes that the central support teams also played a vital role and showed the importance of having a balance: “The central management team is critically important and I was blessed in having a good finance director, as well as good counterparts in HR, IT, BD, Risk & Compliance and Facilities. Those directors helped keep things on the straight and narrow and enabled us to keep focus in very challenging times”.
“My view is that you need a mix of lawyers and professional management in the core team running a firm. There are areas where it is important to have practitioner experience and involvement but you also need those who really understand HR, IT, finance, etc, to advise and guide you. They are just as important in keeping the ship afloat.”
The second phase was under more benign economic conditions and saw strong growth for the firm between 2012 to 2014. Finally, in 2014 and 2016 it went through its two major mergers and ultimately became Gowling WLG. Hugh sees challenges across the board for the legal profession – most notably in technology, HR and client service - but believes the new combined group continues to be in a great position to address them head on.
“On a day-to-day basis, we want to make sure partners and lawyers are able to deliver for their clients all the time; that they can focus on the priorities of clients. Support services come into their own when they help partners and lawyers win and deliver advice mandates without hampering or burdening that activity. More recently, we have been focusing on building our international business and our sector reach.” The group now has 18 offices around the world, with specialisms in property, technology, financial institutions and services, government, healthcare, automotive, aerospace and defence.
The group is also focused on building the next generation. It recently became the first international law firm to sign the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, a global initiative designed to help businesses promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.
For Hugh, he has gone back (mostly) to his day job, leaving some of the pressures of management behind. He is largely focused on M&A and advising young and growing companies, which includes his role as a specialist adviser to AIM businesses. He has even found time to write a number of books on his chosen areas – world stock exchanges and the AIM rules.
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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