WHEN Katharine Hardie succeeded Richard Masters as chairman of Pinsent Masons’ Scottish and Northern Irish practices in September, it was 29 years to the day since she had first joined the firm.

Having grown up and studied in Aberdeen, where her father Buff Hardie was a member of well-known comedy act Scotland the What?, Ms Hardie had moved to Glasgow in 1990 to join Pinsent Masons legacy firm McGrigors as a trainee.

Now she plans to put what she has learned in the intervening period to good use as she gives up some of her client-facing responsibilities to focus on the management role.

“The role is about supporting our lawyers in Scotland and Northern Ireland in terms of what they do to support their clients,” she said.

“I’ve always been interested in making sure the business is working properly for people and making the most out of client relationships, but it’s such a different job to when I started, both at the junior and partner level.

“I was overwhelmed when I got this job by the number of people who emailed me – lawyers who I had dealt with when I was a transactional lawyer and had built relationships with.

“That’s what’s changed; people don’t make the same kind of relationships any more. You learn from other people, but when you are just pinging stuff back and fore you don’t get that. In a meeting you can eyeball someone, on a conference call you don’t get that.

“I’m always telling our junior lawyers to pick up the phone, not to email. Email has its place – documents get sent really quickly – but it takes away from the other bits of the job, which are the good bits, like building relationships with other lawyers and clients.”

Ms Hardie’s own relationships have been forged in the property sector, where she has spent her entire career advising on commercial and residential developments, counting organisations such as Barclays and Legal & General (L&G) as clients.

She was retained by the former to advise on the development of a 450,000 square foot campus on the banks of the River Clyde that will house 5,000 employees when complete and also advised L&G on the creation of a build-to-rent tower on the same site - the company's first in Glasgow.

Ms Hardie said the Barclays development will be transformational for the riverside area of the city when complete, noting that the firm’s relationship with the banking group is helping with its own transformation too.

Pinsent Masons, which took over McGrigors in 2012, has always operated as a traditional legal practice, but Ms Hardie said its ambition now is to reposition itself as a purpose-led professional services firm that has law at its core. Its relationship with Barclays is emblematic of this, with the two organisations finding common ground in their promotion of diversity and inclusion as a business imperative.

“One of the things we did a few weeks ago off the back of our relationship with Barclays and their legal team was to host an event in London for both our LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] groups,” Ms Hardie said.

Pinsent Masons, which at the start of this year was named the most inclusive employer in the UK by LGBT equality charity Stonewall, has long been known for its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

As a result clients regularly turn to the firm for advice on how to foster diversity within their own organisations, something the firm is able to offer via specialist consultancy Brook Graham, which it acquired in 2017.

“Clients would say ‘you have a great standing on diversity and inclusion, can you help us?’. We couldn’t do that as lawyers but we can refer them to this,” Ms Hardie says.

“We want to be a professional services firm with law at its core because there are so many challenges that clients face that are not just purely legal. That’s emerged over the past four or five years.”

To achieve its aim the firm has brought in a number of forensic accountants to its tax investigations practice and is also building a legal project management team that is initially focusing on helping its lawyers get to grips with how best to run large-scale litigations.

“Lawyers think they are good project managers and don’t need someone to tell them how to do this, but some legal projects really benefit from other people who don’t have legal experience,” she said.

“A lot of in-house lawyers don’t have a lot of time. If you can provide them with pictorial updates that they can pass on they really like that. We’ve got 12 people in the project management team in the UK, one of whom is in Edinburgh. It’s a discipline that’s growing.”