Slaughter and May modernises management structure

Top UK firm to create managing partner and COO to reflect growth of executive function 
Portrait of Steve Cooke

Senior partner Steve Cooke

Slaughter and May is to shake up its management structure, replacing two top positions with new roles - including a chief operating officer sourced from outside the partnership – in a shift towards a more contemporary model.  

Following a discussion among its partners, the UK Magic Circle firm has decided to axe the long-standing roles of executive partner and practice partner starting next May. The changes are set to take effect after current executive partner Paul Stacey and practice partner David Wittmann retire at the end of their respective five and seven year terms in April 2022.  

Instead, the firm will create a new managing partner role, which it said will take on the functions of the practice partner position and the strategic elements of the executive partner role. Partnership elections for the managing partner seat will be held later this year, 

The firm added that despite the changes, the senior partner role — currently held by Steve Cooke — will remain intact.  

In order to fulfil the managerial and operational aspects of the executive partner role, the firm has decided to create an additional chief operating officer (COO) position. The COO will work alongside and report to the managing partner and sit on the firm’s partnership board. 

But in order to address the ‘growth in responsibilities’ of the role, the firm’s partners decided the COO will be a manager who does not come from within the partnership.  

Commenting on the changes, Cooke said: “Continuing to deliver the highest quality legal services to our clients and creating an attractive and rewarding place to work for our employees are both critical to our success and we’ve thought carefully about how the executive team roles enable and support this. 

“Given the growth in the responsibilities of the executive function, we believe the structure of a managing partner and chief operating officer will bring benefits to our clients and staff alike. David and Paul have done an outstanding job over their respective terms and I’m looking forward to making the most of their support until their retirement in April next year.” 

Tony Williams, principal of Jomati Consultants, said: “Taking a partner out of a fee-earning role to fill an executive one can have a high cost for firms like Slaughters, so some firms have stood back and asked themselves whether they have reached a level of complexity on the operational side that merits the creation of a full-time executive role.

"Firms also need to ask themselves if such changes at the management level make sense for their business from a commercial standpoint. Slaughters is traditionally a conservative and pragmatic firm, and seems to be fully prepared to adapt its strategy when it makes sense to do so.”

Slaughters, meanwhile, remains one of the few top US or UK law firms operating a pure lockstep structure under which partner pay is based on seniority.  

Debate over the viability of the pure lockstep model was sparked by the departure of Slaughters partner Murray Cox for Weil Gotshal & Manges in February, a rare lateral hire out of the firm’s flagship corporate team.  

Other top firms tied to a pure lockstep include US firms Cravath Swaine & Moore, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Debevoise & Plimpton and Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz. Last September, Wall Street firm Davis Polk & Wardwell said it was abandoning its pure lockstep structure as it was no longer compatible with its growth plans.  

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