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Q&A: Baker McKenzie managing partner Chadwick on leadership, the Big Four and law firm consolidation

Having taken on the top London role from popular global chair Paul Rawlinson, Baker & McKenzie London managing partner Alex Chadwick (pictured) talks to Matthew Field on the challenges of leadership.

What were your early years like as a lawyer?

I joined Baker McKenzie as a trainee because I thought it was different, different from the Magic Circle and smaller firms at the time like Ashurst Morris Crisp or Travers Smith – a global firm that sat in a different position.

What are the priorities for you in London?

We want to continue to grow where we are relatively small compared with the market generally, such as in corporate transaction. But we want to retain what is special about us, being a good place to be an employee and spend a career.

It’s particularly important to me that we are diverse and we are inclusive and as we grow we are reflective of all this set of talent, respecting the values we have always had internationally as a firm.

Have any lawyers been particular mentors during your career?

A partner I found most inspirational as a lawyer was Geoff Kay. I sat with him as a trainee many years ago. What I valued in him was his ability to simply and clearly interpret, analyse and advise on complex set of rules that is the tax code. I thought that he was a clearer thinker than any person I had worked at the time.

How much of a threat are the Big Four to law firms giving tax advice?

The Big Four have been very commercial about how they serve clients across multiple practice areas. In many ways their renewed enthusiasm in certain markets is a significant threat to global law firms.

Where we are focused on is our position to support clients at the crossover between cross-border and complex multi-practice projects. We need to keep building on practice areas where we can capture more work, particularly in the UK, through greater bench strength such as in M&A and corporate practitioners.

2016 has been a year of upsets. Brexit. Trump. Is there any hope?

Change is unsettling and challenging, but it is also a cause for looking at opportunities when you do what we do. We want to start to look at what the new dynamic will be for business operating into the UK and from the US. At the end of the day Trump, the May government and the EU will all react with new laws and our job is to help clients navigate that.

More UK firms are consolidating and firms like Dentons have become global players. How does Bakers react to this?

We are in an increasingly global marketplace, where our clients do business and look for professional advice globally. These moves are firms that have not been as global as us in responding to that client imperative. But we have always been global. We have always been built of strong local practitioners across a spread of markets. For us, the objective is not to jockey to be the largest firm in the world but to continue to support our clients on a fully integrated basis – and we don’t have the challenge of significant integration on the back of a major merger.

What has been the most challenging time in your career?

Possibly now, but not in a bad way. The last few months have been quite a challenge in that I have gone from one job into another job which is both similar but dramatically different. I still want a meaningful role as a client facing tax partner while executing the good work that has been going on in London.