Introducing Judit Petho: The business of legal practice

29 Apr 2015

Leeds-based Genus Law has seen significant growth in recent times, along with a shift in focus away from the firm’s traditional consumer background to concentrate on developing its corporate expertise. We spoke to CEO, Judit Petho, to find out more about how her experience in professional services is shaping Genus Law and her vision for the business. 

black-divider

 

Judit, you have always worked within professional services. Where have you gained your experience and how has this helped you to develop your career?

I have spent all of my career working within some of the best and largest professional services businesses. During that time, I learnt how to serve clients, picking up on good practice and forming my own opinion as to how to improve upon bad practice . I started out as a corporate lawyer serving blue chip companies. The work was exciting but I became more interested in management and strategy so I did an MBA and for the last twelve years I have focused on organisational development and strategy. Half of my time has been spent in law firms and the other half in audit and consultancy firms, which has given me a good overview of how client-facing businesses operate in different areas and across different geographic territories.

I have been able to pick out the best points from each sector, and my time as a lawyer enabled me to understand the pressures lawyers themselves are under. For example, I am strongly against the idea of time recording as a management tool. It is important to record accurately but not simply for the purposes of tracking a lawyer’s activity.  

 

Why the move to Genus Law? 

I was looking for a business that I could grow from scratch. I have plenty of experience but I was looking for a platform that allowed me to build on the basics. I met our chairman, Jag Mundi, last summer and found that we had very similar views as to what a world-class, modern business in the legal industry should look like, what is and isn’t working for clients and in the wider profession. We also felt the same about what the culture of the firm should be like and this was a critical factor for both of us.

 

How do you approach management and leadership? What style do you tend to adopt?

I firmly believe that we are formed by experiences gained in all places we work and that the people we work with influence us. I have spent a significant amount of time working internationally, experiencing many different cultures. I am particularly influenced by the American, enabling style of management; I let people get on with their jobs and step in if things are not going quite right. 

Other cultures invoke a respect for knowledge and expertise which I bring into practice at Genus by putting our people in positions where they are able to play to their strengths. We understand that, for example, our marketing team members are experts in their particular field but we do not expect our lawyers to have the same skills. Whilst lawyers are able to practice business and client development if they wish, we encourage and value the furthering of their technical knowledge to enable them to carry out their own role without expecting them to take responsibility for marketing functions.  

 

How would you describe Genus Law and its ethos? 

Genus Law is a modern, corporate law firm, set up by business people for business people. We ask ourselves what our clients want and what they value in their legal advisers; the client must always be satisfied with the service we provide. We seek to achieve this through transparent pricing, agreed up-front. We work within a defined scope and solve problems as quickly and efficiently as we can throughout our relationship with our clients. We try to look at things from a different point of view, supporting clients through their major milestones and working alongside them.

 

What are the firm’s roots?

Genus Law has never been a ‘traditional’ law firm, following a partnership model. The management structure from the company’s infancy has followed that of corporate organisations and it was appealing to me that I didn’t need to break down a traditional structure when I joined. The firm’s focus has historically been on the consumer market but we made a shift last year upon recognising that the corporate market offered greater opportunities. 

 

When you came to Genus Law, what did you perceive as your challenges? 

As with any proactive professional services business, the recruitment and retention of high quality professionals who share our vision for Genus Law is one of our highest priorities.  As we continue to grow, plans change month by month but we will always be a ‘people’ business, meaning that finding the right talent and personalities which fit in with the culture is imperative. If you work with people who have the right skills, attitudes and ability to get on with the job, who are passionate about what they do and are not afraid to push the boundaries of client service, the rest is easy. Genus will appeal to lawyers who want to change, grow and do things differently.

 

Given your previous experience and the recent appointments made by accountancy firms for legal divisions, do you see other ABS structures as a threat to the business or the profession as a whole?

The ABS structure gives firms a good opportunity to do things differently but this will only work if the changes are executed properly. It is certainly interesting to see what others are doing; accountancy firms have done it before and already offer legal services in other countries but it is good to see new things happening in the industry in the UK. A variety of business models and career paths can only be a positive thing; we are working in a competitive market so doing something different helps a firm to stand out, provided it is executed well. 

 

In November, Genus Law’s acquisition of Pharos Legal was announced. Is growth of the firm the primary aim for your tenure? In which areas?

Growth for Genus will be achieved through a combination of building breadth and depth of experience in our offering in Leeds and opening an office in London, essentially a combination of geographical expansion and increased practice areas. While we are still at the beginning of our journey, we are an ambitious firm.  We plan to grow both organically and by acquisition. Growing too quickly can overwhelm any firm so we do not intend to acquire too aggressively; rather we will make acquisitions that develop our existing offering. Our main focus is on corporate and commercial, with dispute resolution, commercial property, employment and IP playing an important part.

Financially, it is easier for us to grow as we are a company with shareholders. We are able to capitalise and make investments which is an enormous advantage to a firm like Genus Law.

 

Jag Mundi has commented previously that Genus Law will be entering into the London market this year; is that on track?

Yes, we are looking at establishing a presence in London later in 2015. We don’t define ourselves purely by geography but it makes sense for us to have a presence where our clients need us to be. Many clients don’t mind where their lawyers are based nowadays; we work remotely and flexibly so location is less relevant. But, given that the firm’s roots are here, along with our excellent lawyers, we will retain our Leeds base. We have recently moved into new, modern offices in Leeds and our London premises will be similar.

 

Are you focused on achieving particular rankings?

We need to keep in mind our long term plans but the market is changing so fast, as are law firms themselves. We will look for perhaps a position in the top 30 in 6 to 7 years’ time but we have to see what the market looks like by then and how it changes in that time.  

 

This must be an exciting time for the firm; internally, how do you manage change and keep your people motivated and joined into the strategy?

Mergers and acquisitions often fail in organisations because insufficient attention is paid to the subsequent integration. In a people-based business, this is critical. Growth must be managed carefully and we must ensure that we focus as much on organic growth as we do on acquisitions. If change destroys the culture of a firm and its people, it has failed. 

People who find Genus Law an exciting place to work are those who aren’t afraid of change; we manage integration carefully and always ensure that we have a solid grounding before bringing further teams and individuals into the firm.  

 

What are your thoughts on the legal profession and the UK market at the moment? What is it doing right and where does it need to improve? 

Overall, resistance to change is unhelpful in any industry. The industry must introduce professional management practices with different areas of expertise, from financial management to strategic planning. However, it is not enough to simply bring in new people. Experts’ ideas must be heard and they must be allowed to do their jobs.

Firms also need to listen to clients and what they are looking for; the reluctance of firms to move away from hourly rate charging is surprising given that clients don’t actually want to use that system. It is a very exciting market to be in and I really enjoy being part of the change that is sweeping through the industry. 

 

Do you see yourself as part of a new world of non-lawyers playing a large part in law firms?

I see myself as an ex-lawyer with several years of senior executive experience from different industries. I have a different perspective on things. For me, working in business is a natural environment, regardless of whether it is a legal practice or not. 

 

Who do you see as Genus Law’s main competitors now and who are you chasing? 

We are not chasing anyone but instead trying to build something different. Our competitors differ depending on the client we are working with, the geography and the service areas. There are all sorts of businesses out there but we need to concentrate on what we do best. Our service offering and working environments are both very different to those of traditional law firms.

 

Judit Cropped

Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

I found my first experience of firing someone very difficult but a former colleague reassured me that, as a leader, my first responsibility was for the firm as a whole and all the other people in the organisation, which put things into perspective. As a manager I found that piece of advice very useful and it has stayed with me. 

 

Thank you to Judit for taking the time to speak to us. 

black-divider

 

For more information about Genus Law visit: www.genuslaw.co.uk