Stevens & Bolton
Richard King is managing partner at Guildford-based Stevens & Bolton. He joined the firm in 1994 and in addition to his management roles he handles major litigation and arbitration cases, as well as providing strategic advice in risk management and claims prevention.
Having started his career in London working for Denton Hall (now Dentons), Richard King moved to Guildford in 1994, taking a job with local practice Stevens & Bolton. He made the move for lifestyle reasons but found the work every bit as challenging and more diverse.
“The transition to a regional law practice was a positive step for me. S&B was a much smaller firm, of course, but during the recruitment process I saw what a good business it was. The management was switched on and highly focused and there was a good and interesting spread of work. I felt comfortable that I was moving to a good firm, one that I would find professionally satisfying in the long-term.”
He took on the role as head of litigation as the practice grew. The people and the culture stood out: “I enjoy working with people and S&B was very much a people business. Whether it was colleagues or clients, I really enjoyed that aspect, finding it more engaging than working on sometimes lengthy cases where the focus can often be on legal and other technical aspects.”
Under his leadership, the litigation practice grew, and it became one of the major disputes practices in the south-east outside London.
As head of the litigation group and as managing partner since 2017, he sees his managerial role as having a strong ‘service’ element, supporting and meeting others’ needs: he sees it as his role to make sure everyone has what they need to do their job to the best of their ability.
“That has been my leadership style. It comes down to bringing out the best in others: mentoring, providing opportunities, engaging. It’s about positive human relations and equipping the legal teams so they can focus their attentions on serving clients. You need to lead from the top and set an example. Sometimes we see that people may be pushed down a path that simply doesn’t suit them. A good manager recognises the strength of each individual and helps them go down the path that’s right for them. That’s really important.”
The biggest challenge of running a firm, he says, is that there is no road map. There is no line manager issuing instructions, no-one phoning with the work that needs to be done. With support from colleagues, he has to set the agenda, deal with people issues as they arise and help guide the firm’s long-term future.
He sees the legal profession facing a number of specific challenges. The first is increasing competition and the shifting demands of clients: “Lawyers need to be good listeners and to think ahead. What do clients want from us, now and in the future? Law firms are being challenged to adopt a more sophisticated approach, with increasing competition from non-traditional providers. We have accountancy practices developing increasingly advanced legal capabilities and the evolving business landscape has drawn lawyers into a more business-centric approach in their dealings with clients.”
The firm has always attracted talent, but it is not immune to challenges in the market. Pay scales and increasingly flexible working packages offered by London and US practices have created competition for regional firms: “It’s important for firms like S&B to continue to differentiate themselves from larger practices – we need to offer something that’s distinctive and that will appeal to those who are looking for an alternative to the career paths that big firms offer. It helps that we are based in the south-east, which means we can offer an alternative to a working life in London (while still being close to London to enjoy the facilities it has to offer) and we are not subject to some of the pressures frequently found in City practices. People aren’t joining us because we offer the same salary as a City or US law firm but a more relaxed working environment, a genuine work-life balance without compromising on work quality, are appealing to many.” He believes the firm is fortunate in being able to offer some lifestyle advantages, which are important for the next generation. Millennials want a work/life balance, while still being able to do interesting work.
During his tenure, he has reshaped the partnership to build greater engagement, putting all the partners on an equal footing (the partnership moved to an all-equity structure from May 1st 2019 and now has 45 partners, including four recent promotions) and also creating profit sharing arrangements across the firm. He says: “We want to make sure that everyone understands that it is their business, not just that of the partners. We spend time making sure people feel part of the journey.”
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.
More success stories
Maurice Turnor Gardner
Whether it was becoming just the third female trainee at Allen & Overy, or its first female partner, Clare Maurice has been reshaping the legal sector since she joined as an articled clerk in 1976. She departed A&O in May 2009, along with other colleagues establishing Maurice Turnor Gardner.