Linklaters. Saying it out loud to yourself (using received pronunciation, naturally) brings to mind tradition, prestige, success, money and impressive lawyers. The name of its HQ – One Silk Street, London – does nothing to dampen such thoughts. And it’s inside Linklaters grand headquarters that we find ourselves waiting to chat with Gideon Moore, firm wide managing partner since November 2015. We don’t know what to expect, only that he leads a Magic Circle firm dating back to 1838 whose giant, mahogany-panelled reputation goes before it. What we also know is that Gideon is a busy man with not inconsiderable responsibilities – some sources suggest that Linklaters has more FTSE 100 companies as clients than any other.
There’s a gentle tap on the door. “May I come in?” asks a voice. In walks Mr Moore, a man with such highly developed social skills that he knocks on his own door to see if his guests are ready for him. “Thanks for coming,” he smiles – “would you like a cup of tea?” – before giving us a tour of One Silk Street. Straight talking yet modest, there’s no ego, no bluster. It’s an approach that suggests empathy and humility – characteristics that Gideon believes are crucial for effective leadership. More of that later…
As we sip tea, Gideon explains how he got into law, starting – surprisingly – with Geoff Boycott. “In my pre-law days, I was almost a professional cricketer,” he says. “I joined Yorkshire for pre-season training one year and bowled at Geoff Boycott, but my cricket career didn’t work out. It wasn’t Boycott’s fault – it was the second spinal-fusion operation that did it. After that, I decided to focus on law and started out as a barrister, eventually becoming a solicitor with Clifford Chance. Later, I joined DLA as a partner for three years, and then came to Links [as Gideon affectionately refers to his firm] nearly 18 years ago as a lateral hire into the nascent banking practice.”
In June 2015 Gideon got a call telling him that his name was on a list of 11 people under consideration to become Linklaters’ next managing partner. “I didn’t ever set out to be firm wide managing partner,” he says. “But I was honoured to get that call.” He received an update a few days later to say that the list had shrunk to six and that his name was still on it.
“The next step was to write my manifesto and present to the partnership board. It was an interesting exercise. Everyone should write their own manifesto. Maybe not as extensively as I did – mine occasionally gets referred to as ‘War & Peace’ – but it’s a good opportunity to put down in writing what you want and what you believe the firm should do.”
On November 17, 2015, Gideon landed the job. “I felt humbled, privileged and excited… mixed with a bit of apprehension and ‘what have I let myself in for?’ But the main emotion was joy – and looking forward to it without really knowing exactly what ‘it’ would mean.”
So why did he get the role? What swayed the board?
His ideas on leadership, within the context of Linklaters, represent one large reason, and they make interesting reading for any ambitious young professional who thinks that being the boss is all about showing you’re ‘in charge’, dictating and banging on tables.
“I think the technical expression is ‘servant leadership,’” Gideon says. “In the hustings, when presenting my manifesto, I said that leading a law firm like Links is similar to pulling a rubber band that’s wrapped around the partnership. Take the partnership in a direction where it doesn’t want to go, or pull too hard and fast, the rubber band snaps and the partnership simply remains where it is. The leadership has to look over the horizon and try to see what changes need to be made, but they also need to bring the partnership with them. You can’t just dash off and say ‘we’re over here now.’
“What that means is spending huge amounts of time discussing and communicating what you think the firm needs to be doing and why. You can’t lead in a top-down way because you won’t get buy in. You need to listen. I prefer to say ‘here’s an idea – what do you think about it?’ Then get feedback, build on it, push it out again, and ask the partners to think about it a bit more. I’m not the only person to have good ideas and the reason clients like Linklaters is because they can speak to several people and get great overall output. Why should I think differently?”
It’s a consultative, collegiate approach, and Linklaters’ new managing partner goes yet further. Rather than seeing himself sitting at the apex of the business, he imagines himself digging and shaping the foundations to create the most secure and fit-for-purpose structure possible. He explains: “At the hustings I presented an image of an inverted pyramid to show how I see the firm’s structure: the managing partner supports the pyramid and at its inverted base sit the clients. So everything I do is designed to create the best possible structure and environment for the business to deliver excellent service to our clients.”
The other big focus for Gideon – apart from constantly ensuring exceptional client experience (“that’s a given,” he says) – is innovation, both in terms of the Linklaters brand and of the services that the firm offers. With the brand he is keen to combat preconceptions that Linklaters somehow has more in common with stuffy gentlemen’s clubs than the modern business world. “I’d like us to be seen as a really good business rather than as a club,” he says. “Over the years there’s been a working assumption that some professional services firms are run more like clubs than businesses. To stay current, it’s important we are perceived, both internally and externally, as being a good, vibrant, efficient, innovative business while maintaining the cohesiveness and collegiality of a partnership. If in three years, after my current term, people look back and say ‘it became more of a business than it was at the beginning but has retained the good elements of a partnership,’ it will be job well done.”
This brand evolution will be delivered in part via technical innovation. “Has Linklaters got to where it is today by doing exactly the same thing for 178 years?” Gideon asks. “Absolutely not. We’ve always been innovative but haven’t really badged ourselves as such. I set up an innovation group a few months ago to prepare our people for the future challenges in our industry, provide a focal point for progressive ideas and improve the experience of our clients. I want everyone, internally and externally, to realise that we are a modern, forward-looking, innovative firm.”
So over the next few years we can expect to see even greater service innovation at Linklaters and a continuing modernisation of the brand. But this will be underpinned by the attributes for which this 178-year-old partnership has become renowned – exceptional client service and access to the finest legal talent in the world. There’ll be no sudden surprises or unexpected changes of gear – that’s not the Linklaters’ way. Smoothly steering the Rolls-Royce forward, polishing, tinkering and tuning where necessary, will be its new managing partner, Gideon Moore.