Legal boss says the structure of business has advanced 20 years in one, adapting and cHanging through the pandemic
Leading a team through the pandemic has proved a challenging, but ultimately positive, experience for lawyer Chris Longden.
Chris, head of Kent law firm Whitehead Monckton, pictured, was promoted to managing director in October, just before the country went into its second lockdown. He acknowledges it has not been a “normal” transfer into a new job, but he is obviously proud of his staff’s achievements in continuing to work through the crisis, adapting and modernising along the way.
“We have always been a forward-looking practice and we were well prepared when the first lockdown came and everyone was suddenly expected to work from home. Most staff already had the ability to do so and we invested significantly in technology to make the system work.
“It’s been an enormous learning curve, a massive experiment in what can be achieved – and we are still learning,” Chris said, adding that his teams are in close discussion over where the company goes next.
“We’ve all lived through a huge cultural shift, with changes in business structure advancing 20 years in one,” he said.
Chris trained as a solicitor with a Canterbury company, before working in the City of London. He moved back to Kent in 2004, just after his first child was born, to find a slower pace of life suited to fatherhood.
He still keeps his finger firmly on the pulse of law, specialising in litigation and dispute resolution and has trained as an accredited mediator, helping to settle cases beyond the Whitehead Monckton offices.
“I am passionate about mediation, almost evangelical,” he says. “I know it can be a very effective way to resolve differences. It keeps you sharp, even though you need the softer skills of negotiation.”
Chris was made a partner in Whitehead Monckton in 2008 and became a director when it incorporated into a limited company in 2014. He has sat on the executive board since 2018.
Asked for his management style with his 90 staff, he reflects and says: “I believe in democracy and try to treat everyone the same, to see the team as a whole. It’s a cliché, but my door is always open for discussion and consultation. I try to make everyone feel valued. We have great staff retention, so people seem happy here.”
During the pandemic, Chris has kept in touch with his team via the inevitable video conferences and reckons he has been to the office only about five times in the last lockdown. He looks forward to meeting people face to face when the offices can open again.
On a personal level, Chris has enjoyed spending time with his two sons, aged 17 and 11, during lockdown and he admits his wife has had to shoulder “the lion’s share” of homeschooling. When life returns to some sense of normality, he hopes to return to the golf course. In the meantime, he has become “an armchair sports enthusiast”, glass of wine in hand – a contrast to his hectic work schedule.