Peter Hasson

HOF Lawyers Peter Hasson 1920X1080

Clyde & Co marked itself as an innovator when it put a non-lawyer in charge. That said, Peter Hasson admits that in the early days some of the US partners weren’t sure how to introduce him: “They just took to calling me ‘the numbers guy’ and it took a while until they were finally prepared to admit they had a non-lawyer as CEO.”

Nevertheless, he believes it was foresighted of them: “I was very lucky in joining Clyde & Co. A lot of firms believe only lawyers can run law firms. The model we have is pretty unusual and remains so. The best performing practices are run by good managers and if you understand management, then you have good performance.”

Hasson has served as the firm’s Chief Executive Officer (its first) since 2005. After a lengthy tenure, he stepped down in January 2020 to be replaced by North America Chief Operating Officer Matthew Kelsall. He has presided over an astonishing period of growth for the firm. Over the past three years alone, Clyde & Co has grown turnover by 36%, or £160m, fuelled by acquisitions and foreign expansion: it has opened offices in Chicago, Washington, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland, Muscat and Bristol in the last two years.

It has taken time to build this momentum, says Hasson. His first goal was to improve the practices of those who were there already: “That meant having a clear plan and policies that fitted together well. Ultimately, however, we could only achieve this level of growth by increasing the number of partners. Also, it couldn’t all be done through internal promotions – we needed to bring in lateral hires.”

While these hires have mostly been small teams and individuals, there was also the Barlow, Lyde & Gilbert (BLG) merger in 2011. At the time, it was the largest merger between two UK-headquartered firms. Hasson admits that building cultural fit was tough: “There were a lot of differences and we thought hard about how we would meld the two groups together and build a coherent culture.”

Nevertheless, after a while that culture became self-reinforcing. Clyde & Co built a reputation for being entrepreneurial and business-like: “We were clear on the types of client we wanted to work with and once we had clarity on those clients, we could go about servicing them on a global basis. Once we had built a certain reputation, it helped create connectivity between partners,” says Peter.

“We are trying to get people to mesh together, to create a way of thinking. I worked very hard to put the right underpinning in place. We now have a global profit pool, for example, so everyone shares in the outperformance of the firm and we connect distinct profit groups. To my mind, we have built a distinctive approach on how we go about legal work, how we achieve good legal work and a commercial edge.”

In terms of what's been required to build that consensus, it has been a combination of a compelling vision and reliable execution. Lawyers are naturally conservative and need an intellectually rigorous reason to change direction.

“The best performing professional services businesses don’t have complex strategies, but they have good execution, which really makes the difference. Our strategy is executed well, and we have the patience to allow it to build and develop. Professionals are impatient, they can always see better ways of doing things. I have learned that solutions can’t be imposed from above!” This is a particular challenge with areas such as technology, but he worked hard to ensure that the group provides consistency of service, training and culture.

Hasson believes things have changed for the legal profession since the Global Financial Crisis. He sees a different attitude from clients, who have become more focused on driving value for money from their advisers: Increasingly, they want a business partner providing a service, rather than a professional in the old-fashioned sense.”

Hasson’s path to management was an unusual one. He had qualified as an accountant with Robson Rhodes. On route to partnership, he spent a year as an executive assistant running the group’s South East offices, which had given him a taste for running a business. Time on the insolvency team also provided some insight into how not to run a business.

By his mid-thirties, he was a finance partner on the main board of Robson Rhodes, having spent a number of years turning round underperforming regional practices. He joined Clyde and Co as finance director initially, at a time when it was a similar size to Robson Rhodes. It has moved from £60m turnover with 50 partners, to £650m with 400 partners with increased profitability.

How did his fellow partners react to a non-lawyer heading the firm? “I’ve built a good understanding of all the different elements and I was lucky that I’d worked in a client-facing business. In the meantime, partners have really helped fill in the gaps.”

He believes that the traditional partnership model may be under threat, not least from a new wave of lawyers for whom partnership isn’t necessarily a key goal. “It’s not the way the average millennial wants to work. It’s another challenge for law firms. How do you maintain the right structures to attract and retain the people you want?”

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