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10 years in the life of a Law Firm Managing Director

View profile for Duncan Morter
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Duncan Morter is the Managing Director at Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors. Duncan joined the firm in 1999 as a newly qualified solicitor working in the commercial property team, which is where he grew his experience and specialism in commercial property law for a wide range of clients. After heading up the Commercial Property team for many years and becoming a Director in 2002, he took the managing director role and started his journey in charge of the firm in May 2012.

Being ambitious, Duncan could see that his day-to-day experience of working with and helping his clients, had given him a great platform to move into senior management and use those skills to drive, develop and steer Crombie Wilkinson forward on its journey of growth.

Duncan has over 20 years’ experience in law. He has developed a wealth of expertise in advising clients on a broad range of matters, including development site acquisitions and disposals, commercial leases, and banking and refinancing. He has provided commercial advice to Partnerships and LLPs, and has led large-scale corporate transactions, including joint ventures, and business acquisitions and disposals.

Clients describe Duncan as extremely affable but also, thanks to his impressive in-depth legal knowledge and his strong commercial acumen, a formidable negotiator.

Here Duncan talks about what he has achieved in his 10 years as managing director

“Firstly, let me start by saying that without my fellow Directors and dedicated staff, I alone would not have made the achievements we have in the last 10 years. It is always a team effort and different people bring different skills to enable us to improve for the benefit of our clients, staff and the firm. I don’t have the answers to everything that it takes to run a successful business but what I do know is that by empowering my team and being open to hearing what they say, together we have and will continue to make great strides.

Continued growth has always been a core strategy of the firm and I am pleased to be leading a team of 100 staff who provide legal service to individuals, families and businesses across the Yorkshire region, as well as further afield. Working from offices in York, Selby, Malton and Pickering, we embrace hybrid working giving staff the opportunity to manage their work life balance whilst at the same time providing the same excellent client service we promise in our Service Pledge commitments.

We expanded our presence in North Yorkshire when we joined forces with Ellis Lakin & Co in February 2018 and formed Crombie Wilkinson Ellis Lakin in Pickering. Whilst continuing to provide clients with exceptional service, we enhanced our legal offering to clients with additional specialist expertise in the form of family law and mediation, dispute resolution, employment and business law advice.

A broader range of services for the agricultural community in and around Pickering also became available with support from our wider Agricultural Team and our NFU Legal Panel firm status.

When we rebranded the firm with a new visual identity this was to reflect our vision and values and launched a new look website to make sure that we were showcasing CW well in the digital world, something which was definitely a good move given what we all then had to do to adjust to working and interacting in a pandemic world from 2020 onwards!

This rebrand focused us on what we are all about and the direction we were headed as a firm, and off the back of this, in 2018 we defined our 4 Values (#ClientCentred, #Citizenship, #ContinuousImprovement, #CommunityFocus), devised the commitments that make up our Service Pledge promise to clients and formed the start of our Client Club journey.

In 2019, we launched our Career Progression Programme, a brand-new way for staff to become Associate, Senior Associate or Director. This is genuinely a clear path set out, and open to all in the business, not just the lawyers. I get to hear directly from those staff in this team in quarterly meetings and get insightful feedback to use to improve and adapt the firm for the benefit of our staff and clients. This progression programme also supports our succession planning as we have a clear plan that we want to provide for the future running of the firm.

Now for the big one…navigating the pandemic! This challenged us to look at every aspect of our business, service and requirements. We have learnt a lot about our adaptability, the strength of the team and the infrastructure we have in place. It challenged our thinking on how we worked and gave us real positives about home and flexible working for a good work life balance for our staff, providing our specialist services to clients outside our North Yorkshire geographical office bases and focusing us on what we can control and getting on with that.  It has fast-tracked us to explore different technologies to provide our services in a digital driven world for the benefit of our clients and staff and this is only a good thing as the legal sector has historically been slow at embracing technological changes.

Towards the end of 2020, it was time for the Directors and management to review our strategic plans. Our experiences through the pandemic meant we were all focused on streamlining the strategy projects to ensure that the 3 key things the pandemic had taught us to worry about and plan for were clients, colleagues, cash. Working collaboratively as a management team we were able to define structured objectives with action plans on how to deliver them for the benefit of our clients, staff and business focuses and I am very proud to have been at the helm to guide us through this and see what a great achievement we made of it. We now have a clear vision for what we want to achieve and how we will achieve it with buy-in from all teams to want to get the job done.

We are coming out of the pandemic a stronger, more together, more united organisation and proud to have delivered on our values and service pledge even in the depths of months of lockdowns and restrictions on business. Our staff are key to everything we do, and I am pleased to see that we have been able to introduce and give enhanced staff benefits and rewards including “Going the Extra Mile” awards and Head of Department awards to acknowledge what they do for us and our clients.”

Looking ahead for Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors

“I see a lot of growth for the firm, and across many aspects including turnover, staff, promotions, service offerings for clients and our geographical reach.

We hear what our staff have to say to make sure we are providing a working environment that works for them and which they enjoy being part of. We are embracing the new normal of hybrid working and it is genuinely working for us and our clients. This way of working allows us to accommodate people like never before, especially for those with young families or people to care for.  It allows us to recruit people from outside our geographical area and means clients can see us in whichever way works for them too, be it face to face or via a video conference call, the flexibility really does work.

We will continue with our career progression programme, and the next round of applications will be early 2023. In the 2022 process we promoted 2 staff to Director, 2 staff to Senior Associate and 8 staff to Associate. We want to do as much as we can for our staff and their careers and our investment in Investors in People over the years shows our strong commitment to staff wellbeing, as we take the process seriously and want to go from Silver IIP status to Gold. After all, happy staff means happy clients, so the best of both worlds is achieved.

Our clients are at the centre of everything we do, as demonstrated by our #ClientCentred value and service pledge commitment. We will continue to go above and beyond on these and are always looking for ways to improve on the client service we provide. We are investing in technology and communication methods to benefit our clients and help with efficiencies for staff working practices so more time can be devoted to the client experience with us.

We are now in our 20th year of being Lexcel accredited, the Law Society’s quality mark. Lexcel is an accreditation for firms who meet its management and customer care standards. We undergo a rigorous independent assessment every year to ensure we meet required standards of excellence in areas such as client care, case management and risk management and it was very pleasing to continue to be Lexcel accredited as we went through the pandemic, showing just how robust and effective we are.

We have always taken an active part in our local communities and made this commitment even stronger when we made #CommunityFocus one of our four values. The pandemic has meant that some of our community work and support had to go on the back burner, but now that we are able to take part in activities again our role in the community is very much back on our agenda. Our commitment is to being proactive in our community, supporting our staff to take part in initiatives in their community with the support of CW and doing what we can when we can. We support and sponsor a wide range of local organisations and will continue to do so and actively look for ways to add to this and make a difference. We have also just launched an environmental sustainability project internally for a group of staff to work on actions to help us reduce our impact on the environment both in the office and in our everyday home lives.”