Open and straightforward

Listed on the London Stock Exchange, Gateley can genuinely claim to be unique in its part of the legal sector. Its Client & Market Development team talk about the solutions they have found to present the firm in an increasingly complicated world.

Once a traditional law firm partnership, Gateley plc is now a professional services group which is expanding into surveying and other areas which complement its focus on legal advice. The UK-based company has an active acquisitions strategy to acquire new businesses putting Gateley on a different trajectory to its law firm rivals.

The way it freed itself from the restrictions on entering non-legal fields was to become a listed company in 2015. “We were the first UK law firm to do this,” says Vikki Whittemore, Client and Market Development Director. “We then had to position Gateley plc as a law-led professional services group and explain to the market what that meant.” Earnings for the 780-person practice were up nearly 16 per cent, to £77.6 million in the year to April 2017, and over five times higher than they were a decade ago. So the indicators around its first three years on the London Stock Exchange are undeniably positive.

But taking this step brought major challenges. Not the least of these is that it now competes with the Big Four and other accounting firms which can also offer a range of legal and other professional services. This could be something of a David and Goliath battle, as the Big Two, for instance, Deloitte and PwC, each have revenues about 350 times higher than Gateley’s. “The Big Four have an extremely large marketing budget,” explains Whittemore, “but their approach can be complicated by their global structure. We are more straightforward.”

Another feature of the listed landscape is that Gateley has to comply with stock market rules on communications — specifically around ‘close’ (pre-results) periods and when planning announcements of a market-sensitive nature. “There is a full financial calendar that we work to: reporting financial results; producing our shareholder annual report; running our AGM and sharing other stock market-compliant announcements,” says Cara Zachariou, Head of Communications. “We work with a financial PR firm in the City to support our corporate PR and media relations strategy and to deliver a pro-active analyst and investor relations programme. We are currently the only top 50 law firm operating in a new and regulated environment. We are ever more conscious of the need to focus on and protect our corporate reputation whilst also ensuring we promote our investment proposition to existing and potential shareholders, including our own people”.

The investment proposition reflects a strategy “to differentiate, diversify and incentivise”. While many traditional law firms are diversifying by opening offices around the world, Gateley (operating from eight bases in England and one in Dubai, backed up by an international ‘best friend’ network) is diversifying through its service lines.

For Alex Footman, Head of Marketing, this means synergising the established services with the newly-acquired ones. For instance, in real estate, the company now adds advice on capital allowances (through its Gateley Capitus subsidiary) and surveying (through Gateley Hamer) to its existing law work. “We are now looking at how we market our real estate advisory services providing clients with a ‘one-stop shop’ in terms of legal, tax and property consultancy,” he says. “We are the only business offering advice in all three of these areas. We can help businesses manage risk and optimise value early in a transaction through these services. Other law firms don’t do that.” Client appetite for a series of real estate seminars covering the three areas has been “really strong”, he adds.

Creating insight for clients to showcase expertise across the property group and other parts of the Gateley business is a vital ingredient in the marketing team’s work. Footman adds: “A large part of what we do is focused on creating well-informed, well-researched insight that genuinely adds value for our clients and is shared in a way that suits them. This could be through a seminar or, increasingly, it might be through online channels and by creating video content, animation or webinars.”

Whittemore believes that much of the success of her 25-person team comes from being “very open and straightforward”. She explains: “Law firm marketing can often be very siloed with BD not having a relationship with their marketing and communications colleagues and vice versa. But our internal clients do not care how we are structured, so neither should we. Working as one team, we deliver more value to the business”.

And she gives as an example of this in a restructuring webinar held in January which was a team effort delivered by the Client & Market Development team. “Ninety attendees joined the well-timed discussion of issues affecting the construction industry and its supply chain. We were instructed the same day by one delegate, with other enquiries coming in afterwards.”
Internal communications is a crucial part of the communications work that the marketing team undertakes, says Zachariou. “We work closely with our HR colleagues to deliver a strategic programme of activity that promotes clear and transparent messages about our business to our people,” she says. “Two-way communication is an important focus for us. It’s not just about top down messaging but also giving people an open forum and the opportunity to have a conversation with the leaders of the business. This is really helping us improve our employee engagement levels, especially with the business growing as quickly as it is.”

Looking ahead, Whittemore sees price as an area which will remain a major challenge, particularly as in-house counsel become evermore experienced in keeping the pressure on fees and value for money. “Clients want to streamline their supply chains including reducing their professional advisory costs,” she says. “We are looking at ways to save our clients time and resource by bringing professional advice together. The partners are very focused on how we deliver a better service to our clients.”

Another vital ingredient in the formula is a phrase that Whittemore uses often — “open and straightforward”. The advice that Gateley gives clients might often be highly complex but the Client & Market Development team are focused on making the attractiveness of the organisation’s proposition as clear as possible to investors, the media, clients and its people. Becoming a listed company has made the organisation more transparent, and that transparency appears to have become a tenet of its Client & Market Development team as well.