Interview: Caryn Penley & Allan Wernham, joint partners of Dundas & Wilson
THEY say that two heads are better than one, and Dundas & Wilson (D&W), Scotland’s largest law firm, is certainly hoping the old adage rings true after selecting a pair of lawyers to serve as joint managing partners.
The hierarchy at the Edinburgh-based firm knows what it’s letting itself in for though – it’s had four months of “try before you buy” when it comes to Caryn Penley and Allan Wernham. The pair took over as interim managing partners after Donald Shaw stepped down in March, two years into his second three-year term in the top job.
Last week’s election saw the joint ticket of Penley and Wernham beating off competition for the top post from Colin Massie and Michael Polson, each standing as a sole candidate.
Although having joint managing partners is a tried-and-tested route for D&W – Alan Campbell stood down as Shaw’s “other half” towards the end of their first term together – it is still an unusual set-up for large legal firms. So why have Penley and Wernham chosen to split the job?
“It’s means that each of us can carry on doing client work as well as being managing partners,” says Penley, 43. “By acting for clients, we’ll still be in touch with what our partners are facing each day and we’ll be more in touch with what’s going on in the business community.
“It also means we can literally be in two places at once.” She says the pair have committed to regular visits to the firm’s offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.
While being in two places at one time could have its advantages, the pair have also carved out clear remits for themselves to avoid overlap. Wernham will be in charge of external affairs and increasing the firm’s profile, while Penley will be in charge of operations back at base. But Penley doesn’t plan to be a shrinking violet.
“I’m the first female managing partner at Dundas & Wilson, so don’t expect me to stand in the background,” she smiles.
Taking the lead role in the firm’s external relations will initially put Wernham, 39, at the heart of the action. Just a few hours into their new roles and the pair were already outlining their plans for the legal practice.
Wernham says: “For a number of years we’ve tried to focus on our UK image and haven’t been as focused on our presence in the Scottish market. The consequence of us not being as vocal about our successes in Scotland means our brand is probably quieter than it should be.”
D&W hasn’t been alone in pushing itself into the London market, with all of Scotland’s “Big Four” law firms opening offices south of the Border and looking to style themselves as “British” rather than “Scottish” businesses. That shift to being UK players reached its natural conclusion last month when London-based international law firm Pinsent Masons took over smaller Glasgow rival McGrigors.
While the Big Four have been busy in London, the chasing pack in the Central Belt have been snapping at their heels, with Brodies touting itself as the “largest law firm in Scotland” thanks to the number of solicitors it has on the ground.
Reinforcing its presence on the home front in Scotland appears like a natural step for D&W, but Penley denies that the effort to blow their own trumpet north of the Border is a sign of retrenchment.
“We can do both,” she says. “We can be strong in the Scottish market, but still remain committed to our presence in London.”
The link-up between Pinsent Masons and McGrigors gives D&W a number 1 reason not to hide its light under a bushel.
Wernham admits: “With the international opportunities that a firm like Pinsents can offer, we really have to become better when it comes to singing about our successes so we can continue to attract talented recruits.”
Talking about recruitment may seem at odds with recent headlines regarding D&W, which axed 28 staff in April as part of a restructuring, cutting its headcount back to 80 partners and 340 fee-earners. But Penley maintains that the firm still has openings for entry-level staff and that the reorganisation was part of making sure that the firm has the right staff with the right experience in the right places. She highlights growth in the infrastructure and projects team, as well as the energy and corporate practices, particularly in the firm’s Aberdeen office, which opened in February.
Redundancies aside, the pair remained tight-lipped over the other item at the top of their in-tray – an ongoing investigation into “irregularities” in a tendering process following the departure of Keith Armstrong from its infrastructure team. Penley and Wernham declined to comment on the incident – or on steps they will be taking to ensure similar problems don’t arise again – until their inquiry is completed.
The pair also gave a firm “no comment” when asked whether D&W had been approached regarding possible takeovers and acquisitions in the legal sector. D&W last year failed to take over smaller London-based peer Bircham Dyson Bell after partners at each firm rejected the deal.
“We see a lot of opportunities to grow the firm as it stands at the moment, so we’re not going looking for takeovers,” says Penley. But when asked if the firm had been approached by other players, the pair politely smile and decline to comment.
30-SECOND CV: CARYN PENLEY
Education: Hazlehead Academy, University of Edinburgh
First job: Sales assistant
Ambition while at school: To be a music journalist
Kindle or book? Both – the Kindle for taking on holidays
What makes you angry: The battery in my iPod going flat before the end of a run
Can’t live without: A good handbag!
Music: The Killers, REM, U2
Favourite place: Sandend, a small village on the Moray Firth
30-SECOND CV: ALLAN WERNHAM
Education: Bearsden Academy, then Aberdeen University
First job: Produce assistant at local supermarket, honing my customer service skills from an early age!
Ambition while at school: To become a pilot
Car: Audi Q5. No-one makes them like the Germans, though I still have a soft spot for the Italian sense of style of my old Alfa Romeo
Kindle or book? Kindle
What makes you angry: It rarely happens!
Can’t live without: My iPhone
Music: I love music. Fats Waller, Oscar Peterson, Chopin, David Guetta – a bit of everything!
Favourite place: Any beach where there are blue skies and the sun is reflecting off the sea
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 21 C
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Wind direction: South
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