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02 April 2020

'I couldn't have asked for a more difficult time to start a new role'

New leaders take reins at Boyes Turner, TLT, Freeths and Torys in teeth of Covid-19 crisis

Portrait of Jonathan Grigg

Jonathan Grigg: 'Law firms operate in the real world and this crisis is a national emergency.'

UK tech specialist law firm Boyes Turner’s new managing partner, Jonathan Grigg, was among a number of law firm leaders taking up their roles yesterday in the teeth of the Covid-19 crisis.

The long-planned move saw Grigg replace chief executive Andrew Chalkley, who is stepping down after two decades in the role ahead of his retirement in March next year.

Similar handovers at UK rivals TLT and Freeths and top Canadian firm Torys were also due to go live, with longstanding leaders bowing out after 20-year stints in circumstances that couldn’t have been predicted when the succession plans were finalised last year. 

Grigg, who was previously the Reading-based firm’s head of dispute resolution, praised Chalkley’s leadership and the firm’s response to the crisis and said the firm’s strong performance over the last financial year had provided a solid platform for it to endure the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have been humbled and deeply impressed by the reaction of our people to the imperative to stay at home,” he said. “Processes have been refined and developed over a very short space of time to allow our business to continue supporting our clients.

“The fact our people have pulled together so quickly has given me huge confidence that we will emerge stronger, however long this period ends. I couldn’t have asked for a more difficult time in which to start a new role but the outstanding leadership Andrew has shown in the past few weeks reflects the way he’s led our business successfully for 20 years.”

Boyes Turner has adapted to the shutdown by extending agile working and paper-lite processes, Grigg said, adding: “Law firms operate in the real world and this crisis is a national emergency; we have to do the right and responsible things required of us whilst also supporting our clients and our business.

Grigg is not alone in taking over from a long-standing leader on April 1. 

At top 50 UK firm Freeths, chief executive Peter Smith was due to retire after 20 years in the role to be replaced by head of corporate Karl Jansen, as managing partner, with London managing partner Philippa Dempster assuming the role of senior partner.

At fellow top 50 firm, TLT head of corporate John Wood was scheduled to replace David Pester, Pester having been in the role for 19 years.

Meanwhile, in Canada, Matt Cockburn has taken over as managing partner of Torys, succeeding Les Viner, who spent 22 years in the role.

One deal that didn’t go live on 1 April, as originally planned, was the merger between national US law firms Troutman Sanders and Pepper Hamilton. The firms have postponed their agreed merger to 1 July in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Further reading on the Covid-19 pandemic

'Now is the time for law firms to deliver on their stated values'

Cadwalader suspends partner distributions and cuts salaries as Covid-19 impact grows

Allen & Overy boosts partner capital and freezes salaries, Reed Smith slows distributions

Listed top 30 UK firm DWF issues profit warning as impact of Coronavirus bites

Unprecedented response to Covid-19 is 'testament to legal profession's resilience

US businesses 'clamouring' for guidance on fast-moving Covid-19 crisis, survey finds

Staff welfare, supply chain and privacy: the coronavirus-related issues keeping GCs awake at night

'I have realised how powerful technology now is': an Italian lawyer's take on Covid-19

Coronavirus risk may be unprecedented, but the fundamental principles of crisis response still apply

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