Stephen Macliver: Manager in Law: He Trained as a Lawyer but Bell Gully CEO Stephen Macliver Has Spent Most of His Career Advising Law Firms around the World about Organisational Management and Strategy. as He Tells Vicki Jayne, It's an Environment Where Management by Dictate Just Doesn't Work

Article excerpt

Heading Bell Gully is described as the plum job on New Zealand s legal scene. It s a homegrown firm that not only boasts 160 years worth of local history but, according to its new CEO, an "enviable" reputation offshore.

And Stephen Macliver should know. As chair of the International Bar Association's law firm management committee, he can also lay claim to a high profile in offshore legal circles and was last year identified as one of 11 "leaders" on the Australasian scene in Asian Legal Business' "top 40" list of hottest lawyers.

As the online legal journal notes, he "joins a firm at the top of its game but will face the challenges of steering it through a stagnant yet highly competitive market". It's a task to which 47-year-old Macliver brings a bunch of law management experience much of it garnered in the United Kingdom as well as his home country, Australia.

The challenges here, he says, are much the same as those faced by legal practices around the world. It's just that some are "more acute".

"There is a limitation imposed by a smaller market--it's not a London or New York in terms of the extent of investment banking and corporate activity. So it's a smaller space in which there are a large number of law firms seeking to compete."

Law firms face some common challenges around generating growth in a saturated and price sensitive market, he notes. It's a matter of improving efficiency and productivity in the face of pressure on fees and increasing expenses--especially around talent.

"The other big issue that's more acute in New Zealand is talent attraction and retention. I always thought it was a very Australian thing to do the overseas travel--but in New Zealand that's taken to new heights. And we're not going to prevent that. In many ways it should be encouraged as part of a person's professional and personal development.

"What we have to be better about is doing the best we can while we've got those people for as long as they stay and being even better about managing their transition--which is predominantly into other firms in places like the UK."

That means not fighting the inevitable but building a lot of stretch into the Bell Gully umbilical cord.

"When we know that people want to work overseas for a period, we'll assist them in their planning and execution which often includes helping them into other firms where we have good connections in the UK, New York or Australia. Then we keep very much in touch with them."

A lot of resource goes into alumni programmes including regular updates on what's happening with the firm and functions in offshore centres with visiting Bell Gully partners.

"We actively encourage their return to the firm when they're ready. By then they've had the benefits of offshore experience and exposure to different jurisdictions and are often ready to come back and settle. All of that is a very important part of managing a talent base."

Macliver's own career track has boomeranged between southern and northern hemispheres. After qualifying in Australia he practised as a barrister and solicitor in Southern Australia then moved into a quasi government legal service and was appointed principal legal officer in a statewide legal aid service.

"From there I headed off to the northern hemisphere in 1986 for what was meant to be six months and ended up being l0 years."

While in London he co-founded what was to become a leading legal consultancy, the David Andrews Partnership.

"We grew the business exclusively focused on advising law firms and legal departments about organisational management and strategy. Our business was then merged into one of the leading accounting firms, Grant Thornton and I became team leader and manager of the combined legal consultancy group."

While still in the UK he was approached to become the first fulltime managing partner of Minter Ellison back in Perth. …

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