Legal Business

Focus: A confident handover for its veteran MP but Taylor Wessing still faces some big decisions post-Eyles

With an three terms under his belt it was not a shock that Taylor Wessing’s UK managing partner Tim Eyles has ruled himself out of another run but the impending handover will still be a significant changing of the guard.

‘This is a firm where nine years is a very long time,’ says one partner. ‘Tim thought it was time for a new pair of hands on the job.’ Another adds: ‘Tim broke the mould in doing a third term. He has done a transformational job on the firm.’

The 61-year old confirmed the decision in an email to staff yesterday morning (6 December): ‘When standing for re-election in 2015 I explained to the partners that I would wish this to be my third and final term so it will not surprise you when I confirm now that I will indeed end my role as your MP when the current term expires.’

The corporate veteran took the firm’s helm in 2009 in the middle of a recession, taking charge in the wake of a 7% fall in revenues in its 2008/09 financial year. He was credited with hugely expanding the firm’s international network and giving it a (somewhat) clearer brand than was evident in the hesitant years after the 2002 union of Taylor Joynson Garrett and Germany’s Wessing & Berenberg-Gossler. Eyles also presided over the expansion of its non-IP disputes business and private client offering at home and abroad.

Taylor Wessing’s UK business grew by 41% under Eyles’ watch to £128.9m in 2016/17. There’s certainly worse performances in the top 50, though it is nowhere near the kind of super-charged pace seen at loosely comparable TMT-heavy operators like Osborne Clarke and Fieldfisher, or even more profitable deal machines like Travers Smith and Macfarlanes.

Growth has also slowed lately. UK revenue grew by a modest 2% in 2016/17, while PEP dropped 6% to £481,000. Global has turnover grown by 43% to £269.8m since 2008/09: the firm made an appearance in the Global 100 for a couple of years between 2014/15 and 2015/16 – although Eyles’ role in this is less substantive: internationally, the firm operates with separate profit pools in many jurisdictions.

The firm added eight offices in central and Eastern Europe in 2012 when it combined with Austrian practice enwc. It entered Singapore later that year operating as RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, and in 2014 opened two representative offices in Silicon Valley and New York.

In 2015 it merged in the Netherlands with Deterink, while 2016 saw it establish a presence in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Hong Kong. Globally it fields nearly 1,000 lawyers now across 33 offices.

Eyles was re-appointed as managing partner in 2012 and 2015 after standing unopposed. The clubbable leader remains a hugely popular figure at Taylor Wessing, admired for vision and panache. But it is hard to escape the feeling that his reputation rests as much on modestly brushing up operational rigour and making partners feel more comfortable in their own skin rather than a knock-out performance or bold decisions. You could argue that the firm remains awkwardly pitched between niche player and full-bodied institutional adviser. As such, the next managing partner will face some interesting decisions operating in an area of the market that is rapidly splitting into knockout winners and outright failures.

With partners indicating that the firm’s increasingly influential real estate group will have a name in the contest, department head Keith Barnett is a likely contender. However, another tipped name, well-regarded finance head Rodney Dukes, is now apparently unlikely to enter the contest at this stage of his career. Other influential figures include corporate partner James Robertson and patent veterans Simon Cohen and Nigel Stoate.

Perhaps the most interesting factor will be if talk of a symbolic shift to the next generation actually occurs, with some indications that a young name with fresh ideas might be in play. ‘It is not simply a question of handing over: this is a firm which demands and requires a lot of vision, strategic leadership and thought on how it is led,’ notes one partner. ‘Whoever comes in will require that right balance of strong leadership skills, ability to reflect and preserve what has gone very well and still take the firm to the next level. A fairly unique blend of skills.’

A more detailed list will emerge after Christmas, when the firm has a new senior partner replacing Adam Marks. Voting is under way this week and three candidates from the employment, corporate and restructuring groups are standing, with the winner set to be influential in the MP election.

Comments one Taylor Wessing partner: ‘There are a number of younger generation partners who might take that role. Whether there’s two/three or four/five candidates has not been discussed.’ A colleague concludes: ‘The fact that younger partners feel comfortable in a role like this reflects the fact that this is not a firm based on seniority.’

For more on Taylor Wessing, see our recent analysis ‘No more Taylor Who?’ (£)