“It definitely is an exciting challenge. Instinct tells you that the legal work has to come first, but it’s vital that I take time to understand what’s going on throughout the firm,” says the man who was appointed this summer as the new Managing Partner at Belfast law firm John McKee.
“Fortunately, I’ve got a very good senior team around me here, and we’ve got the right systems in place to ensure everything runs smoothly.” At the same time as Chris Ross took on the Managing Partner’s mantle, his predecessor Angus Creed, changed role to become Chairman at the firm. “All of this is about driving the development and strategic direction of the firm which has grown steadily over the last 10 years and now employs 60-great people.”
“We are working hard to develop our presence in areas which are key priorities for us, areas of the business which we have strong credentials in and are already doing a lot of work in, for example, commercial property, renewable energy, agri food and financial services regulatory work among them.”
But Northern Ireland isn’t the only focus. John McKee has set its sights on building a presence across the Irish Sea, having set up an office in London last year, making full use of the fact that its team includes a number of lawyers qualified to practice in both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. We’ve a lot that we can offer to clients in the Republic of Ireland as well as in England, Scotland & Wales,” says Chris. “This is a cross-channel legal services marketplace that is growing all the time. The clients aren’t interested in where you are based. They’re interested in your legal expertise and the level of client service you can provide. We pride ourselves on the level of service we offer our clients and that has been a strong facet of our growth in these markets.”
The Belfast firm has engaged the services of a dedicated business development consultant to help the team target and develop new opportunities and markets. “We are taking a focused and structured approach to marketing and business development which means that we can totally focus on our legal work and managing the day to day business of the practice while knowing that the business development and marketing side of the business is being proactively managed.”“This dedicated resource brings a strategic approach to what we’re doing. While we’re out in court or meeting with clients, we know there is a total concentration on exploring opportunities to drive the business forward.” Chris Ross emphasises that John McKee is a dynamic team with youth on its side, with a high proportion of the senior team home grown within the firm.
“We’ve built a good structure here and staff can see a clear pathway for career progression. That’s important for lawyers starting their professional career. We believe in investing in people, not only by working to secure our Investors In People accreditation, but also in a number of other ways. Our culture is people focused, on the client side and internally. The people are the difference in providing the client service and knowledge they are looking for and deserve.”
“It’s a really busy time for us as a firm, but there is a good buzz at our partners’ meetings and around the office. “Our commercial property business is growingas that market continues to recover, and a core strength of our business, which is banking has also seen growth, with most of the banks out there actively offering secured lending once again.”
The Belfast-based firm is targeting new business from the public sector here as well as continuing to service the needs of local SMEs and family businesses. “And our business clients, are in the market aggressively looking for new opportunities and new markets. There is a positivity around that wasn’t there a year or two ago.”
John McKee Solicitors has grown considerably in so many areas. “We are really enjoying the various challenges the market presents and have big ambitions going forward,”he smiles. “Of course, we keep an eye on what our competitors are doing, where they’re doing it and how they’re doing it. We’d be foolish not to....but ultimately you focus on what you are doing and ensure you are doing it to the very best of your ability. That is what grows a business.” “At the end of the day, it all comes down to people and to the level of client service that they can provide on a daily basis. We have to do the work well....and exceed the client’s expectations at the same time.”
And what are the key objectives for the coming year to two years? “We want to cement relationships with our existing and established clients. We want to build new ones. We want to concentrate on growth in key practice areas like property and banking, and we want to focus on the opportunities that exist outside of Northern Ireland.
“When we achieve our growth targets and service all the growth as I know we can .....I’ll be happy. And more importantly to me, everyone in the firm will be also.”