Kilburn & Strode
Richard Howson had no plans to be a lawyer. He had a career mapped out as a mechanical engineer before realising it was too specialised for him. Patent law, with a particular focus on the mechanical and electrical sectors, proved a more fitting alternative.
Today, Richard sits as Managing Partner for Kilburn & Strode, the first in its 110-year history. The partnership had grown rapidly and its informal management arrangements no longer worked effectively. After a major review four years ago – and work with a non-executive director – the firm came up with a new long-term vision and strategy and decided Richard should lead it.
At 44, he was young to become Managing Partner and has tried hard to stay involved in client relationships: “I’m aware that the fate of many managing partners is to be managed out or retired. I need a job for many more years!”
“As such, I’ve tried to keep in touch, supervise junior colleagues and work as part of a team with them. At the moment, my work is split into 20% client relationships and around 80% managing partner responsibilities. That’s not how I first envisaged it – in fact, I thought it would be more 50/50 but we have an ambitious change programme.”
Richard was also acutely aware of the difference between being a good lawyer and running a great practice. He explains: “It is often the most capable lawyers who perform the management role but emotional intelligence has to have a hand in both. To be good with clients, you need to be good with people. The same is true for a managing partner. There are lots of technology and management elements, numbers, how to run the business and such but, while it can be quite mechanical and scientific, to do it well you really need to have emotional intelligence.”
For him, the biggest challenge is the people, who can be “wonderful – creative, kind, generous, funny”. However, they can also be “emotional and unhelpful”. A key part of the job is drawing out the first set of characteristics from people while minimising the latter.
When this works, it is one of his favourite parts of the job. Richard admits that he enjoys fixing things and had previously been frustrated when elements didn’t work as well as they should, from hiring to branding to the coffee machine: “I liked looking at how things could be better. Why wouldn’t we devote our energy to trying to improve things, making it as good as it could be?”
With this in mind, he is tackling some of the major challenges facing the legal industry head-on. The firm has come under pressure from its largest clients for fixed-fee billing. The firm has worked hard to accommodate this, while also ensuring that work can be done profitably.
Kilburn & Strode now has offices in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Munich and The Hague. With the firm keen to continue its cross-border business, Brexit has been unhelpful: “It’s been unhelpful PR with our clients outside Europe – in the Far East and US.”
Lateral hiring has remained robust – the firm recently secured the services of experienced trademark attorney, Jeffrey Parker. It has also welcomed 11 trainee patent and trademark attorneys, while launching an inaugural Paralegal Academy. Richard continues to anticipate consolidation in the industry but is surprised it has been slow in coming: “The first firm that really makes European/US M&A work would have a unique offering in the workforce. But change is slow.”
The business has also taken the bull by the horns on some of the work/life balance problems that have faced the sector. Richard is clear that they have a really positive story for new graduates – he cites a diversity programme and a charitable foundation which sees 1% of all annual profits to the Kilburn & Strode Innovation for All Foundation, plus flexible agile working: “We have modern, progressive working practices.”
As if to underline this commitment to work/life balance, this is a firm that even has its own ‘bring your dog to work’ day.
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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