There’s something undeniably cool about Mishcon de Reya. This is impressive, given that many law firms are less cool than a Star Trek convention in Slough. Mishcon, however, exudes a certain sexy style, and if you’re inclined to believe the grass is greener elsewhere, it’s easy to imagine this firm having a particularly lush lawn.
Much of this tricky-to-define allure is down to Kevin Gold. Managing partner since 1997, the South African has been on a 20-year mission to mould Mishcon into not only a superlative law firm, but into a magnetic brand, too. He feels he’s had some success: “We’re not the biggest law firm in town but we’re probably the best branded,” he tells us. As we sit inside Mishcon HQ and listen to Kevin reel off his firm’s innovations, values and successes, it’s hard to disagree. Indeed, Africa House’s resemblance to a five-star hotel – complete with bar (not the legal variety) – only adds to its appeal.
Kevin arrived in the UK from South Africa in 1981 at the height of apartheid. “My choices were to go into the army, continue to study or to emigrate,” he says. His first job in England was delivering sofa beds in London’s West End. One day on The Strand he saw an advert in Lloyds Bank offering interest-free loans to anyone studying for the CPE (a law conversion course). Kevin says, “I remember thinking: I’ll have some of that. It’s got to be better than delivering beds!” He took the course, grabbed the loan and qualified.
Lovell, White & King was Kevin’s first port of call, before joining a small London-based South African practice, Bayer Rosin. “In the early days at Bayer it wasn’t unusual for us to deliver documents ourselves using the firm’s bicycle,” Kevin recalls. But such quaintness wasn’t to last. Bayer Rosin quickly grew from a firm of three lawyers to one employing over 30. Then in 1994, following the death of founder Alan Rosin, Mishcon absorbed Bayer Rosin. And by 1997, Kevin was the new managing partner.
Over the next 20 years, Mishcon has expanded from a £12.5m to a £145m business with more than 100 partners. In that time, Kevin’s worldview, values and leadership style have played a large part in shaping the firm into the unique organisation – and the brand – that you see today.
“I remember thinking that the whole industry was so boring,” Kevin tells us, talking about what influenced his decision to build the Mishcon brand. “Traditionally, lawyers obsess about things like getting into The Chambers Directory or Legal 500. I’m really not interested in that. I want us to talk to the public, to talk to our punters instead.”
Such thinking led to an important moment in the shaping of modern Mishcon: the recruitment of business development director Elliot Moss in 2009. “We hired Elliot from Leagas Delaney, which at the time was probably the hottest young advertising agency in London,” explains Kevin. “Mishcon was a famous firm but had no brand association, so we brought in Elliot to change all that. But we didn’t want to be famous just for the sake of it. Mishcon has to stand for something. We had to have values attached to our brand.”
And values are something that Kevin strongly believes in. “Values underpin our brand and our people,” he says. “I know that some think company values are trite, but our core values are driven home, to every single person, from the very first day they join us. All of our values are internal facing. They work like a charter.
“Here’s an example: at Mishcon you’re obliged to speak frankly, openly and honestly with each other. Anyone can come into my room and speak candidly to me. We don’t have hierarchies – I’m Kevin, not Mr Gold. I have an open door.
“So if you came to me and said, ‘Bob over there is s*!?, he’s doing a bad job,’ under our values you’re obliged to have a conversation with Bob yourself. You need to go and tell him what you think, frankly and openly. You’re also obliged to deal with the problem and find the solution. Because – and here’s another one of our values – this organisation allows everyone to achieve their full potential. So it’s your duty to have the conversation with Bob to allow him to reach his full potential. We’re a values-based business. It’s the essence of everything we do.”
Kevin tells a story to further highlight the importance of those values. In 1997 the senior team adjusted the core values to state that the partners must act as trustees of the firm for the future of all staff. The aim was to avoid underinvestment. However, two champion fee-earners refused to back the change. Kevin told them that they were of course entitled to their opinion but that such an opinion meant there was no place for them at Mishcon. They left because “they would have messed with the karma of the place.”
Mishcon de Reya has posted a top 25 placing in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the past two years. Much of that is down to another one of its managing partner’s obsessions, best summed up by the phrase joie de vivre, or perhaps more accurately, joie du travail – the joy of work. Kevin says: “We want work to be a place where everyone wants to hang out. We spend more time at work than at home so it has to be fun, cool and enjoyable. And it’s not any of those things if you’re not doing great work with great people.”
This affirmative attitude has led to the creation of Mishcon’s Academy – “our very own university” as Kevin describes it. At the Mishcon Academy you learn your technical ‘black letter’ law. But alongside that sits a vast and inspiring menu of other learning experiences, such as a workshop on how to hold your own cocktail party and talks from the likes of Stephen Fry and Rowan Williams. “We like to do interesting things just for the sake of being interesting,” says Kevin. “We want to create balanced thinking – otherwise young lawyers become super-specialised very quickly. It’s important to be able to speak generally about things and to be flexible. So our Academy is now very well oiled and growing.”
The Mishcon Academy also focuses on technology, AI and robotics. “In the future, whole swathes of our work will be done through machine learning,” says Kevin. “So we’ve brought in one of the great gurus in this area, Nick West, as chief strategy officer. Part of Nick’s job is to get us to embrace new ways of thinking. Certain tasks in law can be done better by machines – things like due diligence. We embrace that. Part of our 10-year vision is to set up parallel businesses that are not within law, but in areas such as cyber security and e-discovery.”
Mishcon’s Academy and intense tech focus prove that after 20 years in the hot seat, Kevin Gold is still embracing the future. He’s also still following his ambition to further enhance Mishcon’s brand. Unique foundations underpin this dynamic activity. First, the firm’s uncompromising values – from which no one is exempt – provide a solid base on which to grow. Second, a sense of fun – the idea that work should enhance one’s life – supplies the essential inspiration. If you think the grass is greener at Mishcon de Reya, that’s because it just might be. And Kevin Gold’s the constant gardener.
Article written and edited by the BDLN. MS Wright
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Mar 24, 2016