At the start of something rather special
Lesley Lintott, Head of Private Client, Penningtons Manches LLP, talks to Citywealth about her life, the acquisition of Manches and her views on the private client market.
Born in the North East of England, Lesley Lintott, Head of Private Client at Penningtons Manches (Penningtons changed its name in mid-October when the partners and staff of Manches joined the firm) has been with Penningtons her whole career which spans 40 years. Her father was a headmaster and her mother a teacher whose claim to fame was teaching Bryan Ferry. Lintott read history at Oxford and only later, finding herself surrounded by peers who were planning to be lawyers, did she add legal training to her studies. After completing her studies, Lintott was then articled at Penningtons where she has stayed.
Lintott says when she joined Penningtons, a firm formed in the 18th Century, it was a typical Lincoln’s Inn firm with a strong focus on private clients, but it was steadily moving towards more corporate and commercial work. She became the first woman to be made partner in their offices which were by then based in Aldwych and Surrey.
In 1972 she married Chris Lintott, who joined the private client team at Penningtons in 1997, and the two have carved out high-profile, private client careers and an interesting private life, which includes passions for jewellery, cricket, music and wine. Lintott has many bespoke items of jewellery including a ring with the architecture of Oxford University. The two spend their Christmases and New Years in Venice and Florence, and love Italy, the States and France.
Lintott who was Managing Partner and then Chief Executive for eleven years from 1997-2008, says: “In the seventies people were generalists. It was old families and even older money. Now there are many more wealthy entrepreneurs who are not native Brits and international structures and tax have become a key component of our work. We are also asked to provide a high proportion of family succession advice. It means lawyers are having to be more specialised now and that we are busier than ever before. In fact we are frantic.‚Äù
The acquisition of Manches
“It was finalised last Tuesday and although the deal moved very quickly, it fitted with our strategy to double our turnover. We didn’t want to do it at the expense of our culture so it was important we had time to consider it but we are pleased with the acquisition. We had our planned partner conference last weekend and it was nice to meet the new team. It brings new skill sets to Penningtons. Manches’ lawyers, for instance, have a strong track record in life sciences which will be a new string to our bow.‚Äù
Pennington Manches strategy
“Because mid tier firms are being squeezed, we felt it wasn’t a choice to stay as we were, despite our solid growth over the last few years. It wasn’t pressure from current clients but more the IBM principle. People want to be assured you are a substantial firm which is more difficult in a mid-tier firm. Size can also impact on recruitment and rankings in the directories. Our turnover will now be close to ¬£60million which means we are just outside the top 50.‚Äù
“Our financial stewardship is widely respected. We run a tight, progressive and innovative ship where we show clients we are listening and try to help. For example, making sure that work is
always handled at the appropriate level of expertise. We know clients don’t like surprises and we are always transparent with charging.‚Äù
Have lawyers in London become more powerful?
“We have a good immigration team whose work includes investor visas which is bringing private clients to us but yes, I think there is a trust in lawyers because we are perhaps seen as more approachable than some other professions which makes us dominant at the moment. Lawyers have generally worked on a good bedside manner.‚Äù
“It’s exciting. The deal has improved our profile and increased our people. We have a bigger family team which has great synergy with private wealth. For private clients we have immigration, employment and residential property which are all hot topics. We are doing lots of structuring and working with corporates. We also have a base in Reading and Oxford in addition to our Cambridge office which opened in Spring 2012.‚Äù
Managing a law firm through uncertain times
“Over-spending on support can be a problem but office costs are a major factor too. It’s important to analyse revenues properly and not expect clients will repeat business or deals. We are careful now because of the lessons learnt over the last 25 years of different phases of economic uncertainty. Our management team scrutinises billing, cash collection, lock-up, work in progress and debts and this information is updated on a daily basis and available on the intranet. We have finance and business development representatives on our management board making our procedures more effective. Our profits are climbing steadily. This year the rise may be checked to some extent due to the Manches purchase although our finance director says not. However acquisitions take time.‚Äù
“There are two kinds of client. There are the UHNWs who want bespoke wills. It’s more about their families and succession but there are also lots of clients, even the rich, just wanting to buy an off-the-shelf product. It’s under consideration internally.‚Äù
People and the planet
“Mentoring is and always has been very important to me. I am still the training principal. I enjoy helping people and watching them develop. I am very proud that partners who are now elsewhere speak well of us still.‚Äù
“Every fee-earner has a mentor who meets on a one-to-one basis to find out what is going on with the individual whether good or bad and what can be done to help them. Mentors are given an allocation of time depending on their skills and roles they are performing. Partners and senior associates act as mentors and we encourage both sides to work together to get the most from the relationship. Often fee-earners want to be partners but some people don’t want the risk or hours this route may involve. It’s important we know what ambitions people have so that we can develop them accordingly. We need to have a great team.‚Äù
“It all needs to be balanced with fee earning. We have a charity committee as well who circulate suggestions. We do diversity training but gender issues tend not to be a problem because we don’t apply stereotypes. We welcome all sorts of different people.‚Äù
“You have to be seen. People will wonder what’s happened to you if you or your operation isn’t at the high-profile events or receptions. We know we are comfortable in getting work in but it’s still important to be out there to be at the top of the minds of those within our field. When marketing opened up in the late 80s we were ahead of the game. We were first off the block with learning and development then business development. It is something that is important to us.‚Äù
“Clients want to unscramble structures following the new ATED annual tax charge for those with residential property owned by a company but the HMRC is not allowing it. For a ¬£20m-plus value property there is tax of ¬£144,000 per year which many wealthy clients have absorbed as a running cost of living in the UK.
“Technology is increasingly important. Internally we have Pennipedia which is our intranet but even more so we have clients wanting electronic reporting. Fixed fees are also taking over but we still analyse our hourly billing to make sure the fixed fees are sustainable. There can be leeway for longstanding clients but gone are the days when people will do work for free. Most firms can’t do that. We have to be fair to ourselves with pricing.
“In private client we don’t discount. We have expertise that is essential but in other areas of the law there is a squeezing of fees and lots of undercutting. It doesn’t mean though that the work is cheap or not profitable. ‚Äù
Being sold to
“People have to bring us something useful and then we may get back to them but there is only so much a person can do. You can spend hours meeting people but you can’t please everyone. There is a move towards using specialist advice based on analysis of performance figures when clients want new investment managers. It is ever more complicated and just ensures that we deal with clients wanting investment management in a more measured way.’
With her high profile career and the careful controls at the management helm of the Penningtons Manches ship, Lintott is creating a historic mark in the private client world while Penningtons Manches is putting a firm footing in the UK top 50 in its sights.