Building an integrated finance function: Dentons appoints first-ever global CFO Neal Livingston

Neal Livingston DentonsIn line with its ongoing creation of a global management board, Dentons on 2 October announced the appointment of Neal Livingston from Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) as its first-ever global chief financial officer.
Livingston (pictured), who at CBA was managing director and general manager of global trade and transaction services, has been brought from outside of the legal sector to help leverage industry best practice from the financial services sector as Dentons expands beyond a traditional legal services model.
In his previous roles, which include similar positions at Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Standard Chartered Bank, Livingston’s responsibilities included implementing major strategic investments and new operating platforms.
He will be helping Dentons in its drive to become more integrated, working closely with Marcel Henri, who was appointed as global chief information officer in 2015.
Speaking to Legal IT Insider, Livingston, who is based in London, said: “We recognise that all Dentons’ legacy firms come from different backgrounds and operate different systems and processes, which is absolutely as it should be but it lends itself to economies of scale and working together as a more integrated firm. We will be looking at how our systems operate and how we report.”
He added: “The finance world at Dentons lends itself to a number of opportunities for greater alignment across practice areas and regions – that’s my job, to coordinate the finance function for the Swiss Verein and bring about that greater alignment.” Livingston will be looking to achieve global comparability of results and apply better data analytics across the firm. However, as part of Henri’s five-year strategy there is no imminent plan to conduct a review of the firm’s practice management system, Thomson Reuters Elite 3E.
Livingston’s appointment comes as Dentons hits circa 7,300 lawyers and rising, following mergers in China (Dacheng); Colombia (Cárdenas & Cárdenas) and Mexico (López Velarde), not to mention more recent expansion in Europe.
While each region has a standalone board and management function, the global management team has been assembled to span all of those regions and includes global chief talent officer (Jay Connolly) and global chief marketing officer (Stuart Wilson).
Aside from working on Dentons mainstream finance function, Livingston will also be heavily involved with its innovation arm NextLaw Labs, commenting: “There’s an explicit agenda and strategy to leverage new technologies and ways of working to create value for clients. No-one is under any illusion that this sector is under a different set of pressures now.”
The FinTech sector from which Livingston arrives has seen an explosion of startups and investment of venture capital money that is transforming the industry.
“Neal brings a unique set of skills to the task of helping Dentons continue to build a world class, integrated finance function that will enable us to serve clients better,” said Elliott Portnoy, Dentons global CEO. “His experience in financial services is especially valuable as Dentons expands beyond the traditional legal services model to offer a wide variety of business solutions.”