As a polar explorer, Duncan Eadie is used to going where few people have gone before. That’s why, in the summer of 2015 when he was named an equity partner at Foot Anstey, a UK law firm that’s ranked among the country’s top 100 firms, he broke some new ground. Eadie is not a lawyer; he’s a tech geek and head of the firm’s IT department. Indeed, Foot Anstey became an alternative business structure (ABS) which, under UK law, is allowed to make nonlawyers partners.
“I’m one of the first [IT directors] in a UK law firm to get that sort of accolade and certainly not the last,” Eadie said. “I’m sure there’ll be many others as the market changes – but then again, it’s just the sort of entrepreneurial move that Foot Anstey is prepared to make.”
Eadie, who has made successful treks to the Geographic and Magnetic North Poles as well as crossed Greenland’s ice cap, was able to firmly plant the firm’s ﬂag just a few months later when Foot Anstey was named by the Financial Times “Innovative Lawyers” report as one of the UK’s most innovative law firms.
The ranking, which listed Foot Anstey above some of the largest law firms in the world, cited a newly designed practice management system (PMS) specially created by the firm’s IT group, working with Thomson Reuters.
The Move Toward Tech
During the financial crisis that began in 2007 and lasted for several years, Foot Anstey – like many law firms worldwide – found the very core of its business model challenged. “As with most businesses, Foot Anstey was experiencing more uncertainty at that time,” Eadie explained. “The recession meant that many firms were dealing with customers who were saying, ‘We can’t afford big law firm prices anymore.’”
Interestingly, that may have helped the firm, he added, because it shone a new light on regionally based firms, like Foot Anstey, who were local powerhouses, but didn’t always get much recognition on a global stage. Couple that, Eadie said, with a visionary managing partner, John Westwell, who saw the dark times as an opportunity to focus on recruiting talent. “He saw that it was time to actually go against the market and do something brave given those economic circumstances,” Eadie said. “So, the firm invested when others were retracting.”
During that time, Foot Anstey refocused itself and even opened new offices while other firms were closing them. Instead of reducing staff, the firm hired key legal support professionals in areas of human resources, IT and marketing as well as additional lawyers to move the firm forward. Westwell’s vision certainly paid off. The firm is now ranked No. 75 among the UK100 and its total annual revenue climbed to £36 million last year from around half that during the first years of the crisis.
Of course, an investment and commitment to retooling the firm’s technology was key to this strategy, and it became Eadie’s first course of action upon coming aboard. “When I joined, there wasn’t a strong technology strategy,” Eadie noted. “There had been underinvestment in technology because the firm didn’t really have someone in place whose job it was to create and lead that strategy.” The initial course was challenging – the firm hadn’t purchased new PCs in a few years – and Eadie soon found himself having to explain to key partners the firm-wide benefits of envisioned technological innovations amid the day-to-day challenges of operating under an outdated tech infrastructure.
“There is always going to be a challenge explaining to lawyers, say, how they will greatly benefit by using a client relationship management system that might be online in six months, when they didn’t even have the ability to print that afternoon,” Eadie said, adding that the solution was taking small, practical steps quickly.
You can read the full article in the latest issue of Forum magazine