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Episode nine - Joy Kingsley

Regarded as a legal powerhouse of the north west, Joy Kingsley has an incredible track record as a Managing Partner.

Under her leadership both Pannone and latterly JMW Solicitors experienced growth of more than £100 million. In this episode of the Your Law Firm Success podcast Joy explains how she used strategic hiring and recruitment as key drivers for success.

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So today’s episode of the your Law Firm success podcast is with Joy Kingsley who’s recently retired Senior Management of JMW which is a firm down in Manchester and London in two successive practices Joy took both of these firms from turnovers of between 5 and 10 million to over 50 and 75 million so cumulatively she grew the firms by 100 million and as usual and what I’ve been finding today she’s very self a facing very understated about it today what we cover in particular is the use of strategic hiring to grow your Law Firm okay so Joy thank you very much for joining me thank you for giving me your time to chat with me on the Your Law Firm success podcast perhaps we could start with you introducing yourself and providing a bit of a bit of background on your career or your illustrious career to date yes Joy Kingsley and at the present time I’m a consultant at JMW having been the senior partner there for 13 years and before that I only worked for one other law firm where I was a trainee and I was also the managing partner and then the senior partner that was a firm called Pannone and in that time both firms grew from being smallish Private Client firms with turnovers of 5 million and 10 million respectively to large firms with 700 people working in them and turnovers of 50 and 70 million respectively so and they were full-service law firms so that’s my background okay so you’ve basically taken or been either at the helm or close to the Helm of two firms where you’ve gone from 5 or 10 million to 50 and 75 million so no flash in the pan yes no but the people say that the second one must have been easy because I’d done it the first what the first one was similar they were similar firms they were at similar stages and so therefore wasn’t really that hard the second time sort of thing and is that true no of course not it they were different firms and different positives and different problems so I would you know neither is easy and obviously it’s a bit of a roller coaster on the way but I enjoyed my career I enjoyed what went on at both firms and in in both cases started from you know I wouldn’t want to call it a low but a small firm and small amount of income to becoming a larger firm with larger amount of income and profit so luckily although there were ups and downs along the way ended well in both cases it’s tremendous achievement on both accounts then when you combine it ends up being growth of probably 100 million you know across the pair of them 100 well I don’t know what each one started with or 110 million the question that I quite often start with asking you this a podcast about your Law Firm success I know JMW is involved with a lot of smaller law firms across the country as well in the law share Network what would be your definition of law success well firstly you want to have a firm that you’re proud of you want to have a firm that the people that work in it really enjoy that they don’t leave and that people behave decently towards each other and of course that very good legal work is carried out and the clients are happy with the results but also that you are financially successful so that you can attract talent and you can grow the firm into profitable growth because without profits you wouldn’t be able to invest in new people and new ideas and I think we’ve always wanted to do things a bit differently here and on both occasions we needed to produce more money putting it bluntly in order that we could invest in everything that we wanted to so that to me is Law Firm success you mentioned there about attracting the right type of people when we discussed what we were going to talk about you talk specifically around strategic hiring as a key driver for Success you know what and what we’re trying to do in each episode of the your law firm success podcast is look at Key levers or that or drivers that those at the helm of the firm pool in order to deliver success and when we spoke you talk you talked quite a lot about strategic hiring so I was wondering if we could maybe cover that in a bit more detail starting off with the thinking or the strategy behind that please so if you decide that where you’re going to go with your Law Firm is a full-service law firm then obviously you are going to need to hire people with expertise across the board gone are the days of very long ago when people were generalists and did all sorts of types of law now people concentrate on one type generally and you need to have good people and ideally those people will either have clients or will attract clients as they become more proficient and more experienced and so you need to have a good way of attracting people to your firm if  that’s where you’re going to go with all  these things there’s never one answer  there’s never one sort of law firm and one way of doing anything for us a  combination of interesting Business  Development ideas coupled with  recruitment as you say meant that we  grew the firm in that way and we made sure that we did it profitably and it  wasn’t always that we could say well we  think we’d like a such and such  Department today so we’ll go out and  find the people to put in it it’s  never quite like that people approach  you learn that you need to  have good relationships with both  recruiters but also know a lot of people  in your network that may suggest people  and then you have to be able to persuade  the candidate that they want to come and  work for you because you know very good  lawyers who also have business  development skills and clients are  wanted by a lot of firms so you have to  know how you’re going to persuade  them that they are for you as it were  and what have you found have been the  most important ways in which you can persuade them is it money is it culture  is it location or combination of factors it is a combination of factors but money  is definitely one of them people like to  say that money isn’t the main driver and  it’s perfectly correct that if you meet  somebody and they don’t share the belief  that you’re putting forward um and they don’t think that they’re going to be  a fit for your firm whether the money is  right or not they’re not going to join  you but I realised when I first got to  JMW that to attract the right sort of  people who we wanted to work for us we  were going to have to become more  financially successful because we were  wanting to grow a commercial side having  already A Private Client side and good  people were already earning good money so they’re not going to join you for  less money so you need to build up the  firm gradually and obviously the  people that join you are going to  want to be paid what’s fair for the job  what I wouldn’t ever advise people to do  would be just to enter a bidding war and it becomes more about who’s won the race  and getting somebody that is very very money-driven because you will have your that may not be as good as other  years and you don’t want to be worrying  constantly that somebody may leave if  they earn a bit less one year than  another type of thing so I think that  money is important but culture is  important  expectations of these days what the  working week is going to look like is  important people’s colleagues teams managers all of those add in to being a  a good place of people to work and  certainly you want to have some  excitement something that makes people  want to get up in the morning  otherwise it could all be very dry but  all firms are different and there were  firms that were much further along a  journey than we were in both of the  firms that I work for and therefore  we’ve probably had to do more of  finding new clients and finding new people and some others but I think  recruitments become a very big thing in  most law firms now particularly  larger ones whether they need to  recruit people who have particular expertise who will attract clients because they are so good at what they do  or whether they need to attract people  who have clients and then they need to  attract people who can do the work  because obviously if people are successful within a firm they’re going  to need more people to do the sorts of  work that they do it’s interesting to  think about that particularly at the  start because I  imagine in you know I’d like to  understand a bit more about that around  Panonne and the attitude to towards  risk which is something we’ve spoken about in previous episodes quite a lot  because I imagine the considerations  around beginning to grow through  strategic hiring can have some rolling  their eyes back thinking oh no this is  going to be so  expensive yeah I mean obviously my more  recent experience is JMW but at  Panonne, Panonne were probably a bit further  along the full-service Journey as it  were when I took over as managing  partner but I took over at managing  partner at a very difficult time for the  firm in the early 90s in a bad  recession that was happening then the  firm wasn’t doing particularly well and so I helped guide The Firm to a much  better place than it had been in and  because of that Partners I think were  trusting and therefore if I said I think  this will work let’s give it a try and  it did then you know they supported my ideas and then when I moved to JMW it  was much the same it slightly  different in that they were very happy  being the firm they were being and  mainly doing personal injury and  clinical negligence work but the then managing partner Bill Jones of JMW he wanted to grow The Firm more and  thought somebody else and as it  turned out me would help him do that  and he was getting near retirement  anyway and so again I think actually  the partners here were a  bit mistrustful of recruitment because  they’d had one or two bad  experiences but when I talked to them  about it they were willing to give it a  go as it were and as it started to work  around the firm and it grew the income and the profit and everything we wanted  it to do then again they were supportive  of it and when we decided four and a  half years ago to open an office in  London and whereas a lot of firms  will just get a serviced office put a  few people in it and hope to grow from  there we decided to do it the same way  that we’d done Manchester and find  good people with clients and grow the  London office in that way and that of  itself has been successful and that went from nought pounds to 23 million over what’s coming up for a five year period so that that’s grown quickly as well but  obviously with an eye on profit as well  as on income but  it’s something  that’s worked for us and is continuing  to work there’s a new management at JMW  now I retired other than as a  consultant in April and the firm is  now run by people I knew very well in  the practice and the transition has  been successful and was over really two  or three years I first said in  2019 when I would expect to leave the  practice and we’ve worked to that  time but much of the way that it worked  then is the way that it works now as  well obviously they’re going to do new  and different things we’re not all carbon copies of each other but  finding good recruits and putting  them into the firm and making sure that  they are happy there and want to stay  there is something that that that  they’re still doing here now and I think  will continue thinking about your move  from Panonne  to JMW it sounds as if you  were part of the same process to a  certain extent that you then employ for  strategic hiring for JMW bringing others  in how did you find in your   experience of that or what was what was  the Catalyst for your move given you  talked about stuff like culture you  know I don’t I’m obviously not prying on  exact details but it must have been  quite interesting being at the other side of that yeah I mean it’s one  of those things  I didn’t think I’d  necessarily ever leave Panonne whereas  a lot of people particularly now have  worked as a number of different firms  I’d only ever worked at one it had had  different names but there came a time I’d moved on to being senior partner  there was a new managing partner the  managing partner changed again at Panonne  within a short period of time and I just  thought you know I’ve got another job  another growth in me I mean by that time  the firm had it 700 people it had its  London office Etc and it all happened  quite quickly I just decided that I’d have a look and see what was  out there but I it was again in a  recession the banking crisis I  moved in  2010 and I thought you know would  somebody really in another firm put  trust in someone that did management  didn’t do any fee earning and obviously  it would be expensive as a hire so I  just thought I’d have a look what was  out there and within a month I had  three job offers in senior management  positions and I took the JMW one because  it was a similar challenge I like the  people they I you know Central  Manchester suited me which is  obviously where they were and even  though there was a financial crisis  because at the time they were only doing  Private Client work largely there was a  you know a small amount of  other work  that hadn’t really been hit in the  recession that everybody most other  firms had been hit by and so it seemed a  good choice and the partners were  Keen to make changes grow The Firm Etc  and so that’s why I moved there okay  so that’s interesting it sounds like it  was a combination of The  Challenge which you were you were  wanting the people who you’d already met opportunity location and I  imagine you know the money was probably  similar was in  there but not as the overriding factor and so sorry yeah I mean money having  said that it is a bit of a driver for  most people I wouldn’t have gone for  less money you know that wouldn’t have thought that I was being  valued in the correct way but equally you  know it wasn’t that you know as I said  it was a recession at the time so the  amounts of money were similar and  therefore it wasn’t really an issue they  realised that I would want to come for  about the same amount of money I’d been  used to earning and if things went well  we would all earn more and that’s what  happened so it is a lot more  profitable now as a firm than when I  joined it and therefore everybody’s  earned more than we were doing in  2010 brilliant and for for firms anyone  listening who’s considering oh maybe  strategic hiring lateral hiring is the  way for me to grow my firm what do you  think are the key  considerations well you have to be  good at decision making with recruits you need to get it right in my opinion  about 80% of the time you’re not going  to get it right 100% of the time but it  can be very costly if you hard the wrong  people in all sorts of ways it can be  costly in terms of recruitment fees but  also in having got the wrong person in  and then how that person leaves you and  then finding other people to do the work  etc etc obviously I had a lot of  recruitment experience at Panonne  already  and it was an area that I was interested  in and seemed to be one that I was good  at and therefore there weren’t more  than 20% of people that didn’t turn out  to be the right people for the firm and  that can be culture or it can be that  candidates you know lawyer candidates  pretty clever people they may hide  certain aspects of their personality or  or some people are quite prepared to say  yes I’ve got loads of clients I want  to earn a very large amount of money but  I will bring in this amount of money and  no matter how much due diligence you do  sometimes they don’t like they’ve  told you things that weren’t true so you  have to make sure that most of the hairs  are right ones and that you are able to  persuade people in the right way that  you’ve got your partners behind you and  that they are Keen to join in the  process too and they will meet the  people and tell them everything that’s  good about the team or the department or  the firm and I think that you start  gradually I mean you don’t go out one  day and say send me to a recruitment AG  agent send me everybody you’ve got in  your pocket you know you will want to  see how you do with one or two or three  and go from there but I think it’s not  revolutionary people have been  strategically hiring people for a while  I think smaller firms sometimes don’t  want to do it because they are worried  about how it may impact if they may be working with smaller margins and if  they pick the wrong person so they  prefer to keep the firm as it is but  standing still is never an option  because your staff want pay Rises every  year so you have the same CL you have  the same clients billing the same amount  of money without a great hike in fees you  aren’t going to be able to give pay  Rises to your staff so you need to be  building the firm to be more profitable  so that the staff can be treated well  and they won’t want to go somewhere else  who’ll maybe pay them more on the basis  that you’ve been doing this for some time what do you think are the  most important Lessons  Learned both positive and  negative from the Strategic hiring point  of view but overall in your career as  well from a strategic hiring point of  view the positives are that it does work  if you get it right so and it is a way to build a practice which hasn’t  started with a load of the sorts of  clients that you now want to act for so  it’s a way of getting in new  work new people building being more  profitable Etc so that’s you know the  big positive of it the negative is if  you have to manage out somebody that  doesn’t turn out to be right that is  always distracting it wastes time it can  affect morale so you know it’s something  to be done with care as it were in  general  it’s hard to say how you know people  what the positive is of growth or  what the positive is of a successful Law  Firm other than that if things go wrong  so when we were hit by the  pandemic we didn’t need to panic because  we were in a strong position financially  and even if things were affected for a  year or a number of years we could make  the firm still work we weren’t going to  be in danger and we were you know I’d  worked my way through three recessions  previously so I didn’t really have doubts about what we needed to do and  you need to do things quickly you can’t  sit there hoping everything is going to  be all right when everybody’s been sent  home some work types have dropped  through the floor you have to manage through the process and do it quickly so  that you’re ahead of other people so in  going to our bank and telling them what  we thought the position might be and  using the government’s Furlow scheme for  example we were very quick to do that  and then we were quick to come out of it  again afterwards when things actually  went better than we’d expected so I  think you’re always looking for  positives but also turning challenges  into positives really and you don’t look  for negatives but there will be some and  there may be small negatives every day  and if you have a good team around you  so that you’re not trying to do  absolutely everything yourself and  you trust them to do their jobs then  you can be ready to deal with those  challenges as they come thinking about this as your you mentioned your retiring now after what’s been a  significant period in  practice how do you think things have  changed in terms of people’s approach to  work require environments  desires writers for joining Etc the  workplace in general since you started going down this journey of the sort of  lateral hiring and then today so things are always  changing you have to be flexible people  want different things and you have to  try and get into people’s heads to think  what do those people want and within  your practice it won’t be that everybody  wants the same thing so and there’s  been many changes in the law I mean  when I started in practice you weren’t  allowed to advertise for work you  clients could  come to you of their own vallation but you couldn’t try and take  anybody else’s client and there’s been  massive changes in marketing of legal  practices the recruitment thing is  massively different there are many more  people coming onto the market as it were  and yes people particularly since the  pandemic have changed a lot how they  want to work I mean the legal profession  really did not work from home before the  pandemic a few people may have done for  particular reasons but in general  terms law firms were five days in the  office everybody and that wasn’t what  people wanted when they came back and  you had to be relatively flexible about  that because you didn’t want to lose  people to firms who were more  prepared to have their staff at home but  we have always wanted a reasonable  presence in the office and that’s for  pretty well everybody doing three or  four days a week in the office because  we see a lot of value in training  personally in personal contact with  people in going out to see clients  together in finding clients together and  that’s all quite difficult to do from  sitting at home with your laptop but we  couldn’t and nor would we say well you  either come back five days a week or you  know there’ll be trouble sort of thing  but I think people have looked long and  hard about what they want out of  their careers not every a few people did  leave the law in general not masses decided that something else was for them  and people are working in different  ways but the job is still there to do so  I think that people do look more  now at wanting a work life balance and  some people will say right at the start  of any recruitment process I will be  looking to work at home five days a week  and in almost all circumstances we’ll  say well actually that’s not for us but  thank you for telling us at the  beginning as it were but you know  people will maybe want to be more  involved in management and want their  ideas to be taken seriously and being  allowed to run with them but I think  that’s something that I’ve always been  aware of and wanted to do because people  feel Freer if they can feel like they’re  having some effect and I don’t think the  firm is so large that it’s impossible to  do that well that’s been something  that’s been highlighted a few times the  importance of understanding individual  strengths and weaknesses and bring  brings me on to my next question which  was really that this is probably the  first interview I’ve done where  I’ve been talking to a lawyer where  we’ve talked for almost no time around  the actual technical practice of being a  lawyer and I’m wondering to what extent  or when you  actually if you did make the shift from  being a technician to being more of a of  a business person yeah that that was  probably quite early in that well I  was of the generation where I did all  work types when was in my training  contract and I carried on doing  law for the first four years that I  was managing partner and I realised that that was a mistake because I was getting  to a stage of I’d do my legal work in  the evenings and then I’d be in meetings  more or less all day as managing partner  and I enjoyed the management more anyway  and I felt I could make more of a  contribution in that role and so did my  fellow Partners so they were happy for  me to and I know some firms try and  use one of their number who is a almost full-time corporate lawyer to also be  the managing partner I don’t think that  works and I don’t think it works in a  larger firm I think in a small firm that  may be needs must and they may have a  fee earning Target as well but no I mean  I haven’t feared I was  37 when I became managing partner and I  think I stopped any legal work at 41 and  so that means I haven’t done it without  work you know for 20 over 25 years I haven’t done Le work but because I’ve  done all sorts of Leal work of course  the Law changes and I make sure that I’m  fairly well read in what’s changing in  everything all the time but it does mean  that I do have some knowledge of all work types and can talk reasonably sensibly to heads of departments here  and at my previous firm and it’s I  don’t think it’s a negative not having  carried on fee earning because you’d only have  been Fee earning one thing and if you’re  going to be a full service Law Firm  corporate work isn’t the same as  personal injury work you mentioned that you enjoyed the manage  management side  more was that something that you were  aware  of early on in your actual technical  career certainly for me as soon as I  started becoming or practicing I was  like this is not for me yeah I mean  initially I think I thought I would be a  practicing lawyer I think everybody does  when they start I run a branch office but because you had to be three years  qualified each day somebody would come out from the head office for you  know to supervise if you like but I was  effectively running an office from one year qualified and so yeah I  would have been at that stage  about you know  23 24 years old and I realised it was a  very small office but I realise the  sorts of things that you had to resolve  and things that would improve  everybody’s working life and ways that  you might attract clients I realised at  an early stage that I found that more  interesting than the actual legal work  but I know people who find legal work absolutely fascinating and interestingly those  that never decide to stop that want to  carry on working forever tend to be  people that love legal work not  management I I think that there is a  I mean people have different views on  how long you should operate as managing  partner before passing over to somebody  else and my experience would be if  the firm is going incredibly well then  managing Partners tend to stay on longer  and if it’s not they might have quite a  short tenure a bit like football  managers really and but you don’t  seem to see many managing Partners not  doing any legal work purely managing and  75 years old I mean I think it’s quite a  stressful job  you know I very much  enjoyed it in both firms but  you can’t say that it’s and I’m not  saying that fee earning these days or  being a head of Department none of it is  without its stresses but the buck does  stop with the management so you know I there aren’t don’t seem to be many that stay  around for many years after a normal  retirement age yeah it seems to be the  sort of  last for some and often within firms  it’s quite difficult to then find  somewhere else to go if you’re going to  go back and then be a technician again  after having been managed I mean I know  my dad is going to be 77 I think this  year and he was very much a  technical lawyer who enjoyed the inter  intellectual aspects of  practice and was still doing work as  previously a QC and now a KC still for  firms you know this year he will still  take on pieces of work and I think it’s  because he always enjoyed massively that  aspect of things where is not you know  they did the managerial thing and in a  different way and I you know and it’s  interesting you talking about doing that  so early moving completely because  there’s still many who still seem to try  to combine the fact of being a  technician and a manager which is almost  like two sides of you know or two  different  personalities  what I was going to ask you you’ve  had  a tremendous career you know the results  that you’ve achieved across two  firms you know absolutely brilliant I  don’t think there any there’s no one  could dispute  that and sometimes at these times it’s  quite nice to reflect on your career and  sort of highlights have you get any ones  that that stand out for you has being  particularly fond memories  or otherwise I think there’s just many many of them you know they are always  going to be if you have a long career  which mine is over 40 years there’s  going to be quite a lot of times  where when the firm did incredibly well  in the 100 best companies to work for  Sunday times and the very first time  I applied in my previous firm we were  sixth out of everybody that entered and  we weren’t expecting it all having a  chat around the table and suddenly you  realise and that happened at JMW as well and different sorts of awards  and you know having a good year my  actual retirement was lovely you know  there were many people who wanted to  speak to me who sent me emails both from  inside the firm and outside and it was  it was a special time of its own you  know winning occasional large cases  is always very satisfying you know  because obviously I would know about  that even if I wasn’t involved in it somebody joining you who then does  really well our London office  which as I say literally started as  you know having recruited six people day  one and promising we wouldn’t take more  than one floor in the first year we  ended up with two floors and you know  taking a risk and then seeing it Go the right way is always you know really  enjoyable I’m watching other people  flourish who have worked with you and  then they move into management roles  and you know achieve great things in  their roles and you know everybody  that I’ve worked with over the years or  most people you know I’ve had good  relationships with and still have  relationships with people from both  firms which are friendships so I think I have very much enjoyed my time  in the law and you know there have  been a lot of special times of course  there are times which aren’t so good as  well you know but you hope you know yes  you probably do remember those but  fortunately for me anyway there are less  of those than there are good times so  yeah that’s what you would want well  thank you very much thanks for your time  it sounds like your career has been a  very rich tapestry and very very successful and I hope that you enjoy  whatever you’re going to do next I don’t  get the impression it’ll be a complete  slowdown and opt out sounds as if that  might be difficult for you to do but I’m  sure you’ll do a bit more of  it yeah we wait and see thank you  very much for your time okay well very  nice to talk to you and so thanks very  much for listening to today’s episode I  hope you enjoyed it I hope you’re  enjoying our content we’d be delighted  to hear any feedback that you have you  can find out more about the your Law Firm success podcast at mltdigital.co.uk/podcast Please subscribe please share with your friends please share with anyone who you know  that you think would be interested.  
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