Business Brain Q&A – Jonathan Waters

Jonathan Waters, managing partner at Hay & Kilner, discusses the impact the law firm is making in the region, and the short and long-term plans for the future

How do you describe your business to others?

We are a leading North East-based law firm providing high quality legal advice to businesses and individuals, predominantly in the North East, but also nationally and internationally. If I had to sum us up in five words, they would be proactive, approachable, practical, focused and experienced.

When did you establish the business and how has it changed/developed in this time?

Having started out in 1946, we have grown organically to become one of the leading law firms in the North East of England. Things have changed a lot since 1946!  The number of lawyers in the region has grown significantly and it is a hugely competitive market. We are now a larger firm and offer a much wider range of advice. For many, the role of the lawyer has changed too – we are in the age of the specialist lawyer. The number of lawyers offering a broad range of advice has reduced significantly and they have become much more specialised, focusing on a particular area of law.

This has changed the way we train and develop our staff and how our teams are structured internally. In this age of specialism, it is important our solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and support staff work closely together to ensure that our clients overall needs are understood and met.  Today we are recognised as a leading law firm in the region by both Chambers and Legal 500, a number of our lawyers have gained ‘leading individual’ status and in recent years, a number of our teams have won major awards.

What impact is it making in the North East?

We are proud to be a local firm, delivering services to businesses and individuals in the North East. We currently employ over 100 people in the region and, recognising that people are our biggest asset, we invest heavily in the training and development of those we recruit. Staff turnover is very low and we work hard to make this a good place to work. Our turnover has grown steadily in recent years, particularly in commercial areas.

What is your business’s USP?

People buy from people – and I think our people are our USP. We aim to be our clients’ trusted advisors, not just who they turn to for a specific legal query. It is our role to understand our clients and their business, to go out and see them and know their aims, objectives and challenges. We spend time getting to know our clients and this places us in the best possible position to help them and deliver the advice they need.

What’s the biggest challenge your business is facing? How will it overcome this?

There probably isn’t one single biggest challenge. The sector has, and will continue to, experience continual change. Technology is driving new business models and ways of delivering services to better meet the demands of clients. Cybersecurity is a real threat, given the breadth of highly sensitive information held by law firms. Regulatory changes will continue to influence what we do and how we do it. It is necessary to be flexible and react quickly in order to spot opportunities as well as potential issues.

What are the company’s aims/objectives this year? Are you on target to achieve these?

Having invested heavily in client relationship management software in recent years, we are investing further in IT hardware and software this year to further improve the service we offer clients.  We are rolling out a full hardware refresh within the next couple of months. We are extremely fortunate to have many long term and loyal clients and our focus will always be to look after them and offer them the very best advice and service we can. We have also invested in business development resource this year, with a view to raising our profile and growing the business. Yes – I think we are on target with all of this!

What are the plans longer term?

There are no plans for fundamental change, as we are confident that our business model is one which is attractive to our existing and prospective clients. We are also confident of expanding in most service areas, however commercial work offers the greatest potential for growth in the medium to longer term. We are looking to expand our specialist teams and add new specialisms wherever appropriate.

What drives us all is making the firm the best it can be in all areas. There is always room for improvement and we work hard to identify where we can do this. It is extremely satisfying to implement change and deliver these improvements. Overall, we want to continue to be a leading North East-based law firm, providing a first class service to our clients.

Hay & Kilner