The Bryan Hughes Interview
Bryan Hughes is the CEO of Eversheds an international law firm planted well within the top 10 of the UK legal hit parade. He is an affable family man who claims to make a habit of losing golf balls and doesn’t look his 50 years (he tried to convince me he was 14 when he joined Eversheds in 1984) but underneath his pleasant exterior he’s a determined, focused and very switched on lawyer-turned-businessman. Read more about Bryan here.
Now, here’s how Bryan sees the world….
You have ambitious expansion plans – can you sum them up for me?
We have always had a 3 year business plan but during our last round of planning we decided to look further ahead, in fact to 2020 and not just so we could call it our 2020 Vision! Our short term objectives are to consolidate our global organisation by standardising our offerings, filling the gaps and turning our investment sites (they’ll be the ones that make a loss) into profit centres.
Our 2020 vision is about taking this platform and spreading the reach still further. We all know that there is an increasing movement of business from west to east but we still need to establish ourselves in the US so an American move is certainly a real possibility in the future.
What is your response to those who would say now is not a good time to invest?
Well they said that 3 or 4 years ago too but we carried on regardless and have continued to add turnover and profit to the firm. We know that if we invest wisely and stay focused we can steal a lead on those of our competitors who are “waiting for the good times to come back”. We believe in ourselves and our strategy so why wouldn’t we invest in it?
With expansion on the agenda why the recent redundancies?
Nobody likes to have to let people go; it’s always painful but we have realigned our business to reflect the market and the needs of our clients and we needed to staff up accordingly. Very sad but also very necessary I’m afraid.
What are the major challenges you’re facing with this strategy?
Pretty much the same as everybody else I’d say: we live in times where change is the new status quo and we have to keep up so we constantly need to refine our plans to keep ourselves on target. Added to that there is less business about which is being chased by too many lawyers and with new entrants turning up all the time it’s tough out there.
Bottom line: If you can’t give the clients a good reason to choose you they’ll simply go with the cheapest. High quality, great service and value for money are valuable assets that clients want and we just concentrate on making sure we deliver them.
You have a very progressive IT department – how does it add value to the average lawyer in the firm?
This question has two answers. Firstly our lawyers simply want to take IT for granted. They just want it to work 100% of the time wherever they are on the planet and they don’t want to have to think about the enormous amount of work it takes to consistently deliver this. Well why should they?
Secondly we see IT as an enabler; something to give our lawyers an edge in a market place where you need all the edges you can get. Whether it’s enabling a completely mobile working option or allowing people to link their own Smart Phone or tablet to our network our IT team are saying “yes” as opposed to the proverbial sharp intake of breath.
Lawyers are traditionally techno-phobes – how have you got round this?
Well our younger lawyers have been brought up on computers so totally get how important they are and have no hesitation about using them. Some of the more experienced lawyers have also made the leap into the information age with ease whereas others……. (stares wistfully out over St. Pauls)
In short what counts is their ability to provide great legal advice and IT is just one of many tools we use to help us do this quicker and more effectively.
You were the first firm to issue iPads to your lawyers – did this pay off and do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
Yes I think it did on all sorts of levels. Sure there was some PR value to it but it enabled our people to use technology in situations that would be impractical if you had to fire up a laptop. They also improved our ability to communicate and engage with our stakeholders. Added to that the lawyers thought it was “fun-computing” if there is such a thing (I am an IT man so I told him there is – not sure he was convinced).
Moving forward we are working on a ‘Bonfire of the Bureaucracies’ project to reduce the amount of form-filling and unnecessary processes that have built up over the years as well as additional projects to enhance our HR, case management, practice management and CRM systems. We definitely like to get our money’s worth out of our IT department.
Law firms are having to change from passive BD to something that is a lot more proactive – what changes have you made in the way you win and keep clients?
This is an interesting question. To start with we have been running an extensive and very successful Key Account programme for a number of years which has contributed greatly to our growth and profitability. We train our people precisely how to look after clients as well as seek out new ways to help them and engage with them. This has, and still is, giving great results.
We are still winning new clients of course but we have a range of approaches to this including promoting our sectors and relationships with third parties.
Do you think every lawyer should have to do BD?
A perennial question Mike. Look, everybody has a part to play in securing business. It could be the lawyer that does an outstanding job and gets a referral from it or perhaps somebody who is as comfortable in a networking situation as they are in a boardroom. I believe that you should work to people’s strengths and not spend your time trying to make them good at something they inherently find difficult. Having said that each practice has their own business plan and each team member is expected to contribute; the business won’t win itself you know.
I always like to end with a round of quickfire questions so here they are.
Describe Eversheds in 10 words or less.
Relationship-driven; different in a good way; challengers of the norm (did him a favour and hyphenated the first two; Mr Generous).
Are you an ambitious firm?
We’re far too self-effacing for that Mike – we just want to be different and do it our way (yeah, sure like he loses a lot of golf balls too).
Reasons to: -
- Work at Eversheds: strong culture, meritocracy and the sky is your limit.
- Use Eversheds: easy; we’re obsessed with customer service and being aligned to their businesses.
- Competitors should beware: we’d rather they just ignored us really…. Until it’s too late!
During a time when many firms are talking about attacking the market and growing their businesses but not doing much about it Eversheds, under the urbane Mr Hughes, are making it happen and good luck them. Apparently fortune does favour the bold. Learn more about Eversheds here.