Facing a tough call
Simmons & Simmons, which has had a rough ride in recent times, has now elected Janet Gaymer as its senior partner. Saira Zaki assesses the challenges she faces
Simmons & Simmons has had it tough over the last few years. Low profitability levels during the 1990s led the firm to drastically rework its equity and remuneration structure – not just once but twice. Unhappy partners, who disagreed with the strategy as well as the firm’s mid 1990s focus on corporate to assuage its magic circle identity crisis, drifted away.Over the last two years, however, things have changed for the better. The firm moved away from its magic circle dreams two years ago, to refocus its practice beyond its solid corporate and finance practices, marketing the firm on its strengths in areas such as employment, financial services and environmental law. The firm’s senior partner Bill Knight said this focus is the reason Simmons & Simmons is about to announce one of its best financial years yet, with partner profits rocketing to about £400,000 compared to £238,000 the previous year. Moreover, this week, the firm begins a new era under fresh management after voting in its new senior partner, head of employment Janet Gaymer, first reported on www.legalweek.net (19 March).Gaymer, who will take over from Knight in September, is understood to have beaten litigation partner Phillip Vaughan, head of corporate Stuart Evans and head of IP Kevin Mooney to the post.Domestically for Gaymer, profitability remains the most pressing challenge. She must also continue to focus on building key client relationships such as the Belgian brewer Interbrew. Like other City firms, Simmons & Simmons must also motivate associates, having suffered a number of departures over the past two years. Given her background, however, Gaymer is well versed in such issues given her background. And she says she is already committed to “the whole life-work balance issue”, developing a number of arrangements, including flexible working.Gaymer also faces fresh challenges on an international basis. Her main priority will be to expand the firm’s entire overseas network, which spans 11 offices. Its strongest offices remain those in Hong Kong and the Middle East – based on the firm’s capital markets strength. But the firm has yet make a real impression in continental Europe – most notably in Germany, where it recently took the one-partner firm Kaiser, based in Duesseldorf. Its profile remains low on the rest of the Continent, with the exception of its successful Italian office. Sources say the key to making money abroad will be for the firm to further internationalise its core domestic areas. Although this is what Simmons & Simmons has been working towards over the past two years, critics believe the mindset of partners still has to be persuaded. As far as the market is concerned, it is a question of waiting to see whether Gaymer can lead the firm to the success it has desired for such a long time.
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