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.
No-one in Peter Rolph’s family had ever been to university, let alone worked in the legal world or run a law firm. Peter was determined that the sacrifices his family had made to support his career should not go to waste.
“My parents had the foresight to let me follow my education and I recognise the sacrifices they made to let me do that. From the beginning, I had the strong view that I would work for myself or shape the firm I worked for.”
After university, he joined a firm of solicitors in Southampton and became a partner relatively quickly. “We had a strong team of partners, who were focused on what we wanted to achieve – quality of service. Law is a service industry and that was very important to us.”
As Managing Partner at Steele Raymond solicitors, Peter wanted to ensure the focus was on the clients and the firm, rather than only on the interests of individual partners. To his mind, this was a weakness with the partnership model – there are often competing ideas and it can be difficult to make a decision solely in the interests of the firm.
“We’ve never become complacent and always worked hard to be better. To manage the business effectively, we realised we must listen to everyone at all levels of seniority, to find out about individual business areas, galvanise and enthuse others. Everyone needs to be contributing. The best ideas can come from very unlikely sources.”
He believes this is vital in building a resilient business that can cope in difficult times: “During the recession after the global financial crisis, the volume of our property transactions reduced. It is easier to manage in the good times, but a supportive ethos becomes far more important in more difficult times. It is essential that people feel confident in opening up. An open culture, where people are encouraged to contribute, where people are listening and there is no blame culture, is far more productive. People share credit for their achievements and everyone is in it together.”
The firm undertook a review to identify pivotal roles where specific experience and expertise was needed. The firm employed professional managers and a business development director, operations director and IT director. Peter believes that leadership and strategy are set by those who own the business – in Steele Raymond’s case, the partners and the Board. They understand the client side and how to make a difference: “You need clarity of vision on where you’re going, but you also need experienced professionals who are able to improve the operational side.”
“It’s no good trying to know and do everything. It’s impossible. My IT knowledge would – at best - be described as rudimentary. I need to rely on the expertise of others and I need people who are engaged in the business. As I see it, the partners are the owners of the ship and decide where we go. The crew help us plot the course and get there.”
Today’s legal world is competitive: clients are quite rightly demanding more from their chosen law firm but finding the right talented individual to serve these clients is a challenge. For Peter, it is important to specialise in law, not try to be all things to all people. That means deciding the areas on which the firm will focus and ensuring the way its service is delivered exceeds clients’ expectations.
Retention of talent is also a challenge, he says: “There is a small pool of talented individuals and we need to build a firm that’s attractive to them. Key to this is having a strong ethos. Today, young lawyers are incentivised by different things. Is it a nice firm to be in? Do they like the working environment? Can it offer them the career opportunities they seek? Do the values of the firm match their own values? People don’t always join firms for life. They are looking for career advancement.”
Some lawyers don’t want to be partners, for example, and the key is flexibility. Peter considers it a great shame of the profession that so many women are lost to the profession after having children: “They are highly trained and experienced. We’re not doing enough to encourage women to return to work. They shouldn’t be lost to the law when they have children. With this in mind, Steele Raymond are constantly reviewing how we work to emphasise flexibility and agile working.”
Steele Raymond prides itself on finding creative ways to meet challenges: Peter says: “There is no shortage of good ideas and a world of opportunities. Businesses have to be creative to evolve and to predict the next evolution. As a firm we are constantly striving to better ourselves. We much prefer leading the way, rather than constantly striving to catch up.”
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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