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Looking forward to exciting times
John Marshall is senior partner at commercial law firm Dickinson Dees, which is headquartered in Newcastle.
LAWYER John Marshall is a rare breed. In a world where people change jobs with increasing frequency, he’s worked for the same firm for his entire career.
Born and bred in Newcastle, John studied at Durham University before joining Newcastle-based law firm Dickinson Dees in 1989 on a training contract.
Twenty-three years later, he’s still there – now as senior partner. “I don’t suppose I really started off thinking that I would stay here for such a long time – when you’re just starting out, you don’t find it east to envisage being anywhere for that amount of time, because it seems like an eternity,” he says.
“The firm has changed a lot, therefore the environment I have been working in has also changed a lot, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of different roles so they have continued to challenge me.”
John, who joined the commercial litigation team when he qualified, was made partner in 2000, little over a decade after he joined the firm, and became training principal shortly afterwards, which involved looking after the trainee solicitors at the firm.
He was subsequently given the role of compliance partner, which meant he had to ensure practices at the firm complied with regulation, and then became head of commercial litigation.
When senior partner Robin Bloom left the firm in 2010, John was elected by his fellow partners to the position.
He is now leading the company through one of the most exciting periods in its history as it gets ready to merge with Bond Pearce, a law firm headquartered in south-west England.
The merger, which is set to go ahead on May 1, will create £95m firm Bond Dickinson, with 1,200 staff employed across eight offices.
John says the merger came about after Dickinson Dees partners came to the conclusion that to expand the firm organically during the economic downturn would be difficult and they would need to take positive action to achieve this.
They looked for a firm which was similar in ethos, outlook and ambitions, which was a similar size and which had differing specialisms and markets, and which covered a new geographical footprint.
“Bond Pearce fit the bill on a lot of levels and the more we spoke to them, the more we realised it was a good fit,” says John.
“ We are ambitious and we want to grow the business. If you look at the market, it is not growing in real terms. The firms which are growing are growing because they are increasing their market share.
“Dickinson Dees is the 58th largest law firm in the country, and Bond Pearce is the 57th. We want to make it into the top 20 largest law firms by 2020. We are using that as an expression of size growth – we will not be too disappointed if we don’t manage that. It is about achieving sustainable growth.” And the new firm will keep a strong presence in the North-East, despite having a footprint stretching across the country and growing its customer base in London.
“The North-East will continue to be very important for the new firm.
“Although we will look to grow wherever the opportunities are, that isn’t going to change.
“One of the really exciting things is that Bond Pearce have a lot of expertise and clients in oil, gas and renewables, which is very relevant to this region. It will be great to offer our existing and new clients those kinds of skills, experience and expertise. I am very excited about it – I think it will bring lots of great opportunities.”
As a boss, John regards himself as straight-forward and approachable.
“I am very much a people-person. I enjoy interaction and I think people find me to be straight forward,” he says.
“I like to be honest and clear with people, it doesn’t always mean they will hear what they would like to hear from you, but I think it is very important.
“I also think it’s important to get all the facts before you make a decision, but then you absolutely have to make a decision.”
In his personal life, John likes nothing better to spend time with his wife and two teenage children, and has a passion for watching Newcastle Football Club which is shared with his son. He also enjoys walking, particularly along the Northumberland coast and in the Lake District.
He is also a parish councillor, a school governor and a church warden.
“I like to challenge myself and I like to be involved,” he says. “It is important to be active in the community you live in.”
Five minutes with... John Marshall
Favourite North-East building and why.
Theatre Royal in Newcastle. The architecture is amazing and it sits at the top of the magnificent Grey Street.
What was your first job and how much did you get paid?
I used to work in a bar and got paid £8 for a night’s work.
What is the worst job you've had?
It would have to be shredding old paper files in a storage facility.
What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?
Roast beef (with all the trimmings, of course).
What would your superpower be?
I’d love to be able to be in more than one place at a time!
Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party.
Nelson Mandela, Bill Bryson, Sir Steve Redgrave and Dawn French (to give it a lighter edge).
Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?
A static caravan in the Lakes when the children were younger.
Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?
Has to be Stephen Fry for all the random but interesting facts.
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens.
When did you last cry?
Watching a weepy film at Christmas!
What is your greatest achievement?
Being a father to two wonderful children and helping to deliver the recent merge between Dickinson Dees with Bond Pearce.
What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?
Good communication is the key to success.
Favourite animal, and why.
Dogs because they are obedient and loyal.
Most famous person on your mobile phone.
Various clients who are well-known but sadly I can’t name them.
What was the last band you saw live?
Danny and the Champions of the World – if you haven’t heard of them, give them a go!
Describe your perfect night in.
Sat on the sofa with the family – a good crime thriller on the TV and a nice bottle of wine.
In another life I would be...
A football manager. It’s a stressful job but they seem to get paid even if they fail.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
What irritates you?
Untidiness and being late.
What's your secret talent?