Rod Waldie is CEO and partner of legal and professional service group, Gateley. The business comprises national law firm, Gateley Legal and a number of other complementary professional services businesses which have been acquired since the company became the first UK commercial law firm to list on AIM in 2015. Gateley Legal has 11 offices across the UK and one in Dubai and their Manchester operation is based in King Street.
Q: In your opinion, what differentiates Gateley Legal from the other UK headquartered law firms?
A: Our bold step into the public market differentiated us from other law firms at the time but has continued to provide us with something tangible to offer our clients that really is unique in this sector through our Platform strategy. This presents a broader and more compelling offering to clients in specific markets and sectors, enhances cross-selling opportunities to our existing clients and represents a compelling go-to-market strategy for new ones.
To this point we have already successfully established our “Property Platform” and our “People Platform”, with our plan being to replicate that approach in other areas as demand and opportunity dictate both organically and through acquisition.
Q: How would you describe the culture and philosophy at Gateley Legal?
A: We are guided by our purpose – which is to deliver results that delight our clients, inspire our people and improve our communities. Our culture is inclusive, empowering and builds trust and in an environment in which everyone is welcome and valued. This allows people to play to their strengths in a business which has an infrastructure for opportunity and fair career progression. We have internal networking groups that promote awareness and understanding and drive positive change, including further advances in our diversity and inclusion efforts.
In addition, our culture is a product of the way we integrate our people and is built around our one-team approach and what we call the ‘Gateley Team Spirit’; a set of behaviours that underpin who we are as a business. We encourage these behaviours internally and recognise those people who are living and breathing them every day through our annual Gateley Team Spirit Award programme.
Q: As we know, Gateley have rapidly expanded to eleven offices across the UK. How do you ensure that the culture remains collaborative across the country?
A: Working together is one of our Gateley Team Spirit elements and is geared towards our ‘one team’ approach. Our colleagues have been able to collaborate across all of our offices in a much more connected way since the pandemic with the shift to online meetings and some excellent relationships have been built as a result and that perhaps wouldn’t have been before we got to work in this way.
When our return to office plan came in during September it was fantastic that our colleagues could then move to spending a bit of time in the office as well and continue to develop those relationships and cross-selling opportunities they had worked on during the pandemic by meeting people in the office and across our national network.
We are temporarily back to full home working at the moment in line with government guidance but hopefully it won’t be long until we can revert to our Gateley Agile strategy which we think combines the best of both worlds, allowing people the flexibility to work remotely but also spend that much needed time with their colleagues and clients in our offices.
We are also focused on the delivery of our Platform strategy which brings our legal and consultancy businesses together to attract new work, in a manner that differentiates Gateley and which is becoming increasingly attractive to clients.
Q: Since being appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer in May 2020, how have you navigated the challenging and competitive market over the past year and a half? What have been some of your greatest accomplishments?
A: During my first year, I spent time carefully guiding the business through the pandemic. My main focus has been to do this in a way that ensures the wellbeing of our people and focuses on key stakeholder engagement, whilst continuing to deliver a first-class level of service to our clients.
Difficult times can also present opportunities and many positives have come out of the pandemic for us as a business and as a team. The global pandemic forced all of us to pause and quite literally, stop. When the economy went into lockdown – something that no Board of Directors could have predicted or planned for - we were all forced to stop what we were doing personally and professionally. For many of us, this has been an opportunity to reflect, recalibrate and reconsider what we do and why we do it. As a team we have emerged stronger and as a business we are confident about the future.
One of my key priorities since becoming CEO has been to demonstrate our commitment as a responsible business and we have delivered a good start to that this year which is a great achievement. We have started to implement our purpose led ESG framework by launching our first responsible business report. Within that we have outlined our objectives in line with a 14-point framework that contributes to the wider levelling up agenda in the UK led by former education minister the Rt. Hon Justine Greening. We are also working with a range of other partners in this area including the Better Business Act, with an eye on driving change where we can legitimately make an impact. We have big plans in place with regards to shaping our responsible business agenda in 2022 and beyond and I’m really excited to move that forward.
Q: The past few years have tested law firms’ business models to see how robust they are through challenging periods. How successful was the Gateley Legal model at continuing business during these challenges?
A: Our historical resilience shown through numerous economic cycles and clear and meaningful strategy for the long-term development of our business have been proven in recent years as we have faced many challenging periods. Our robust and resilient business model demonstrates to staff, clients and investors that their careers, instructions and investments are in safe hands despite the macro-economic environment.
We have worked hard to create a resilient business model which has given us a strong foundation for further growth and as a result have enjoyed consistent revenue growth year on year even through the tough times. Whilst we will always have legal services at our core, we are committed to continuing to build a wider professional services business. We are consistently ranked as one of the UK’s most active corporate legal advisors, and our increased Group revenue being up by 10.5% this year was testament to the resilience of our business model and our people.
Despite the last couple of years, we are definitely moving forward with confidence and opportunities undoubtedly exist to broaden our range of professional services through acquisitions that enhance our client offering and deliver strong returns. We are very much focused on our growth strategy organically and acquisitively.
Q: As a forward-thinking law firm, what internal adjustments have been made at the firm to adapt to the post pandemic market?
Businesses are going to have to continue to adapt and learn to live with the ongoing management of the virus, we know it's not going away completely but the vaccine programme now gives us hope and a more stable and assured way to be able to plan around any future scenarios, putting the safety of our people and clients at the heart of that. We will continue to follow government guidance at every step.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have operated in line with government guidelines. We’ve adapted seamlessly to remote working during each lockdown and previous investment in our IT infrastructure has proven to be invaluable during this time. Throughout a significant period of disruption to the economy and our traditional ways of working, the professionalism of our staff in supporting each other and helping our clients has been exceptional.
Recognising the significant changes that have been forced upon us all as a result of the pandemic, we have launched our Gateley Agile strategy which embraces what we believe is likely to be a permanent shift in working patterns.
We have also agreed to consolidate and reduce space within a number of our office locations and have successfully reconfigured all of our offices with agile hot-desking facilities in anticipation of a more flexible return to office working in the longer term. We anticipate that this has increased headcount capacity by 33% across our office portfolio and is a clear and valuable example of an operational gearing opportunity being realised with scope for further gains.
The pandemic temporarily paused our growth strategy but we’re now firmly looking forward and I’m excited about making further legal and non-legal acquisitions during our next financial year and beyond.
Q: How has growth in technology changed the way you work and helped to improve processes at the firm?
A: As a Group, we faced significant challenges to transform our business to a virtual operation when the first UK lockdown came into force. The use of Microsoft Teams has been further embedded within the business over the last 18-months with additional training delivered. It has been a key platform for us in keeping connected with clients and colleagues whilst working away from the office and we have had positive feedback that many teams have felt more connected during the pandemic because of this.
We have discovered that virtually, we can work efficiently and effectively at home, and found that we can use technology to collaborate with clients and colleagues and make changes to our working practices to deliver paperlite processes.
Q: As well as offering competitive salary ranges and benefits packages, are there any additional perks and social incentives that your Lawyers have the opportunity to enjoy?
A: All employees right across the Group have the opportunity to acquire shares in the company and we have a range of different share schemes in place. Through share ownership, we’re all incentivised for the company to succeed.
We have a fantastic social club committee, although we have to be mindful about the events we hold at the moment, there are lots of opportunities for our colleagues to get together, network and enjoy each other’s company. In addition, every couple of years we have a business wide party that we organise for all of our employees. This is a much-anticipated event in the Gateley calendar and we’re looking forward to when we can hold our next one. The last one we had was a Cirque de Soleil theme in 2019. We didn’t feel it was right to have the party during 2021 but we are hopeful that we can fix that later next year. It would be great to see the whole business come together for an amazing event like that again.
Q: How important is your marketing and social media strategy to create a uniform brand for your business?
A: Incredibly important. In the last couple of years we have refreshed our brand: how we describe ourselves and the way we look. Our business has changed significantly since we floated in 2015 and we wanted to make a clear statement about our personality, people and culture.
To capture our essence, we talked to people that had worked with us before and our people. They told us what they liked about working with/for us. We took their words to shape our values.
We took everyone on a journey to transform Gateley from a traditional law-firm to a legal and professional services group. 'Forward thinking and straight talking' has become our mantra and influences how we market ourselves.
We use social media actively, not only to share our achievements and news but also to recruit and connect with potential clients. Our marketing team work incredibly hard to drive home our go-to market strategy, which covers business development, marketing, events, corporate communications and bids and tenders.
Q: What are the top three attributes you look for in Lawyers looking to join your firm?
A: In line with our Gateley Team Spirit being a team player is a must but we also want them to be forward thinking, ambitious for success and trusted to do. I’m incredibly proud to lead our business and work with such talented and driven colleagues. I can whole-heartedly say that these attributes are present right across the Gateley team.
Q: As you look towards the future, how would you envision Gateley Legal’s positioning in the market in 2, 5 and 10 years’ time?
A: Our vision and strategy for the business is very clear for the years ahead in terms of a diverse, distinctive and differentiated offering which drives both growth and resilience. Part of that growth is moving towards becoming a wider professional services business where the balance is more pronounced between our consultancy services and our legal business. We believe this makes for a more interesting and rewarding proposition for the people who work in our business as well as our clients and investors.
From everyone here at Interlink we would like to thank Rod Waldie for taking the time to answer our questions. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to inspiring faces in the world of law and hope this Q&A inspires others with their legal future. We look forward to continuing to be a part of incredible growth of Gateley Legal.