Eversheds partner, Ian Mather
“In tough times the OK performer feels the heat. The poor performer is kicked out of the kitchen.”
The Company Eversheds is the only international law firm based in East Anglia and continues to expand from its local base, centred in Cambridge but spreading across the region, the UK and globally from East of England roots. Eversheds has offices in major centres around the world and operates across six main practice areas: Corporate & Commercial, Human Resources,Legal Systems, Litigation, Dispute Management and Real Estate. The industry sectors it advises encompass central government, education, energy, financial institutions, food, healthcare, local government, retail and telecoms. 1) As an international law firm, has Eversheds in the East of England managed to control the destiny of the local offices rather than have to follow a City head office dictat? We have an office in every major commercial centre in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In each location the brief – or dictat if you prefer – is the same. We offer a quality service to private and public sector organisations. It is a brief all partners and staff are happy to sign up to. All of our regional offices benefit from our international footprint which has contributed to the firm being ranked in the top tier of legal practices by the legal directories. 2) Eversheds has made key acquisitions in several major territories in Asia and Europe in recent months. How do these benefit your East of England clients? Business has become increasingly global although we still have a strong local client base. Eversheds took the decision, many years ago, that an international offering would give us a competitive advantage against many other law firms. In Cambridge for example our international reach has helped us attract clients such as Sepura, Olympus UK and Plastic Logic. 3) How will the recently announced rationalisation of your East of England operations pan out and will they diminish or enhance your ability to cover the whole region? A large number of our staff in Norwich will relocate to Cambridge. This will create possibly the largest one site real estate team in the region and the largest specialist employment law team in any firm anywhere in the UK. Clients have been supportive of the move, acknowledging that for much of our work geographical proximity is not essential. Our lawyers will travel where there is a client need. There is nothing new in this model – major accounting firms and banks have focused on Cambridge as a hub and have been very successful. 4) Eversheds has helped a number of local clients with global expansion. Do you believe the growing internationalisation of the East of England business profile has strengthened the local economy? Absolutely. I came to Cambridge in 1982. Then the city businesses were largely small and locally focused with the notable exception of Marshalls. Since then we have seen sustained (and sustainable) growth in businesses such as Autonomy, Domino, Abcam and many others. All operate internationally. All have brought jobs and wealth to the region. In this respect Stansted Airport has played a significant role in making international travel easier for the business community. 5) Law firms have become businesses in their own right in recent years. Do you feel they have convinced companies that they are allies in their growth strategies? Increasingly I think so. Law firms are increasingly better at servicing client demands. As a commercial law firm we only grow if we deliver what our clients want; quality, practical legal advice on time and on budget. The fact that we have seen consistent growth over recent years suggests our clients see us as being aligned to their goals. 6) Being at the heart of the corporate community, what sense have you gained of how companies are coping with the current economic downturn? Undoubtedly it is very tough for some. Pre-revenue technology companies in particular are finding cash harder to come by. On the plus side well funded businesses are seeing opportunities open up for them. There is not much IPO activity at the moment but this will come back. In the meantime we may see more mergers with smaller companies being absorbed into larger competitors. 7) In any downturn, as opportunities in one area of business diminish, others arise elsewhere. Has Eversheds in the East of England noticed any trends in the type of work it is being asked to handle - ie more Real Estate or greater employment work? The biggest growth area has been in employment work – which is my area. This is not only in handling redundancies (I am dealing with my third 100 plus redundancy this year) but also in terms of a desire for stronger people management. In tough times the OK performer feels the heat. The poor performer is kicked out of the kitchen. This creates work for us in helping guide organisations along the way. 8) What would you say were the great strengths of the local economic profile that appear to make the East of England region so resilient in tough markets? The local market is largely made up of many small and medium sized businesses. If one of these fails it does not have the same catastrophic consequences compared to a large employer closing down. The market is also diverse. There are many technology companies but they are involved in different technologies and are at different stages in their development. In short we have lots of eggs in lots of baskets. Wider afield than Cambridge businesses have adapted to the times well. Restaurant, pub retailer and brewer Greene King and Charles Wells are prime examples. They occupy the quality end of the beer market and have grown their business as a result. 9) How has Eversheds changed for the better in recent years? Our core values based around practical commercial advice have remained the same. I think we have improved in the area of project management so being able to predict costs much more accurately. Our international spread has also increased immensely. It was the combination of these factors that led Tyco in 2006 to reduce it’s legal panel in Europe from over 200 firms to just 1 – Eversheds. 10) Taking a crystal ball, would you foresee Eversheds growing even stronger numerically or in terms of global influence from its current Cambridge headquarters? When the Norwich move is complete we will have a staff of over 180 in Cambridge. Ten years ago we had a staff of 40. There is every reason to believe we will continue to grow. Our local market is strong, despite the current economic troubles. In Cambridge we are ideally placed to provide legal services across the region – and to work with our colleagues in London and internationally on specialist project work.