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Birmingham Private Practice Partner Q&A Series - David Varnham, Partner at Mills & Reeve

Chloe Matthews Market Insight, Chloe Matthews

Mills & Reeve is a top 40 UK law firm and the only law firm in the UK top 100 to have consistently grown profit and turnover each year since 2002. The law firm has appeared in the Sunday Times’ Best 100 Companies to Work For list for 16 years’ running. David Varnham is a partner in the firm’s banking and finance team based in Birmingham. He has extensive experience of acting for borrowers and lenders on financings in wide variety of sectors and jurisdictions. David regularly advises on corporate finance, acquisition finance, real estate finance and project finance. He regularly advises international lenders and corporates structure complex cross-border finance transactions.

What does a post COVID-19 world look like for Mills & Reeve?

I think everything and nothing has changed. Like all firms, there are inevitably going to be short-term peaks and troughs across our business as some areas get busier and some get quieter but I think the medium to long term impacts will be more interesting. We have seen a decade’s worth of change to our economy and working practices crammed into just a few months and like most professional services firms we will need to adapt quickly to the new landscape. There will be some micro-sectors that may never return and new areas that will spring up in their place. Technology has always been important but I see that being supercharged over the next few years and I can’t see many areas of life where technological solutions don’t emerge. Technology cuts across all of the sectors we focus on so whether it’s real estate, life sciences, food, health or education we have technology experts who understand how those sectors will be evolving and adapting. As a national firm with six offices we were already used to working with teams across multiple locations so the technology, structures and working practices were already in place but there is no doubt that there will be a huge shift to diffused teams in multiple settings. We are all finding our way but we are fundamentally a people business and built on relationships both with each other and our clients. It has been great to see how the firm has made sure that our investment in teams, people and individual wellbeing has kept pace with our increased reliance on technology. I think that’s what sets us apart and has enabled us be there for our clients throughout the lockdown as enthusiastically and efficiently as before.

What have been the main challenges for clients in your sector since lockdown?

Looking back to March and April there were unprecedented upheavals in people’s lives and working situations and we were all juggling competing demands. Despite this backdrop I think the finance sector performed exceptionally well. As the Government loan schemes emerged banks were deluged with applications for new funding and requests for amendments/waivers of existing lending. Almost all of these were time critical and stressed situations. I was really impressed to see how quickly these large organisations managed to adapt their processes to support their clients in a situation where lenders would not typically be rushing to lender money or relax existing lending terms. My expectation is that things will calm down for the next few months as businesses emerge from lock-down and get a feel for what the next 12 months might look like and at that point we will see more funding requests or covenant relaxations coming through.

What do you envisage being the most challenging aspects of your role for the remainder of 2020?

I am working on the assumption that we and our clients will not be “back in the office” on a full time basis this year. On a purely transactional level the work we do can be done from anywhere so from a delivery perspective the continuation of distributed teams and remote working should not present any challenges at all. I think the challenge for firms for the remainder of 2020 and possibly into 2021 will be ensuring all of the relationships that firms are built on remain strong as at its heart legal services is about personal relationships and trust. Zoom has been fantastic and will no doubt continue as a very efficient way to quickly connect with clients and colleagues but there is no substitute to meeting and spending time with someone in person. Getting this balance right will be difficult.

What are you looking forward to doing most post-lockdown?

I’m looking forward to my kids getting back to school. It’s been great seeing so much of them over the past few months and I’ve had an unexpected refresher in primary maths but they have missed their friends and are in desperate need of a qualified teacher!