Lesley Gregory has been chairman of Memery Crystal since 2016 and was previously CEO for six years. She also runs a busy corporate practice. She talks about the importance of values and culture in today’s law firm.
Lesley Gregory is not only unusual in being one of the few female chairman at a UK law firm, she also presides over a firm that has a 56:44 ratio of women to men. She has not just blazed a trail herself, but she has created a culture in which other women can thrive.
The culture at Memery Crystal is vitally important to her. She says: “We can’t compete with some of the biggest firms on pay but we can compete on culture and doing high quality interesting work. Everyone who works for us is a high-quality lawyer.”
The internal culture is focused on diversity and a number of core values: to be trusted business-focused advisers; to take individuality and personal responsibility; and to have a friendly and supportive approach.
In practice, that means being flexible about issues such as home-working or allowing returning mothers to come back part-time. The group has reshaped its technology to ensure this can be done effectively: Lesley says: “We are very proud of what we've done to enable people to work more flexibly. I have always done one day a week from home. Making this work is a necessity, otherwise you lose high quality members of your work force.”
This also takes some openness with clients, but Lesley believes they appreciate the transparency. She believes that firms that simply say ‘it’s impossible’ when asked to accommodate flexible working will have problems in the longer-term. She finds that associates regularly log on after 8pm: “They care. It just takes some creativity.”
The culture manifests in other ways. For example, Memery Crystal became the first law firm to launch a Payroll Giving Scheme with Giveall, a HMRC approved platform enabling employees to donate to any UK charity through their salary on a monthly basis, commission free.
Lesley’s background was as a corporate partner, setting up and heading the AIM practice at the firm for a number of years. She has retained her practice during her time as chairman, specialising in capital markets work and also advises growth companies on alternative forms of raising finance, including retail corporate bonds.
She has long enjoyed the challenge of working with entrepreneurs and growth companies. However, when she was asked to take over from Memery Crystal’s charismatic founding partner, Peter Crystal and head of litigation Harvey Rands as CEO in 2010, she admits that she was well aware that the skills for being a good corporate lawyer didn’t always translate to being a good business manager.
Her early goals were to focus on generating strong organic growth, but also bringing new people into the firm and building a clear programme for succession. In her decade on the management board of the firm, currently alongside corporate partner and CEO Nick Davis, it has seen strong revenue growth, considerable expansion and succession planning has been put in place.
Memery Crystal now has a full management structure in place with finance, HR, marketing and technology heads. The firm is still run by partners, but all have busy practices and therefore need to delegate.
The firm is currently in an expansion phase. “We did a lot of lateral hiring, including six or seven partners, and made acquisitions. We moved offices. Now the firm is looking at other strategic areas of growth and there are particularly opportunities amidst the current Covid crisis for well managed-law firms to pick up talented partners and teams. That said, we want to be independently-run and managed – a high quality mid-sized law firm. We see this as a real point of differentiation. We can pick out centres of excellence. We have a strong international presence and a great reputation in the market.”
Memery Crystal has all the same challenges as any firm of its size – the competitive landscape, the presence of US law firms with deep pockets. However, for her, the hardest part of the job remains dealing with the business’ main assets - its people. “We are a friendly firm and sell ourselves on our culture. As such, dealing with behavioral issues that go against our core values is tough, but necessary. We need to ensure all our senior people are supportive and live and breathe our values.”
Her priority is the well-being of the people in the firm: “For me the big skill is understanding people. In a law firm our biggest asset is our people and I believe firms fail when they don’t look after their people properly.”
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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