Considering a move out of London?
Moving out of London can feel like a daunting move if you’ve built your career in high profile City firms working for London based or international clients. But after a significant stint in the City, it’s not unusual to consider what life could be like if you didn’t have to live within commuting distance of central London; particularly following the pandemic.
For some, it’s the lure of a life by the sea or the pull of family who live in another part of the country. For others, it’s because they want to start a family and would prefer a life outside of the capital. For all, though, the big fear factor is career compromise. Nobody who’s worked hard to build a heavy-weight legal career wants to let it all go to waste.
So how can you move to a part of the country that you’d love to live in, and maintain career status, quality of work, calibre of client and colleague?
Matt Stoate, Partner and Head of Corporate at Foot Anstey, shares his thoughts on creating a successful, high value career outside of London.
My advice to anyone currently working in a City law firm, and considering a move out of London, is to start by evaluating exactly what they want from the next ten years of their career. I’ve spoken to lots of senior associates in that position over the years, and I’ve heard so many different answers.
Some just feel burned out after a decade or so in the City; others want to live somewhere else, for a variety of reasons, but want to emulate their City work. They live for the high profile and complex deals, the big-name clients, the structure and process of a major firm. I know from personal experience that there are some excellent firms where you can live outside of London, work in a different location, and do the same quality of work, in the same structured setting with the same quality of client and colleague, as you would working in the City. I know many people who have made this move, and for some it’s a perfect solution.
And there are also those who thrive on the high calibre clients and colleagues, who will not compromise on the high quality of work, but who for personal reasons wish to relocate out of London, particularly when they reach a certain stage of life. They may also have reached a point in their career where they no longer wish to be just be a small cog in a very big wheel, and have an entrepreneurial thirst for building something of their own.
My own experience is not dissimilar to this. I began my career at Travers Smith in the City, later moving to Kinmont, the widely respected corporate finance boutique recognised as a leader in advising management teams. I was fortunate to build some excellent connections through these roles. However, I grew up in the South West and always wanted to move my family “home” as the children grew up but my biggest concern was having to compromise on the quality of work I had become used to. I had also enjoyed the more entrepreneurial nature of a Corporate boutique, and whilst I saw myself returning to private practice as part of a large law firm, I wanted to replicate that boutique feeling where I could.
So when I first met Foot Anstey, and they spoke to me about the opportunity with them to set up a private equity practice from scratch, using the contacts I had built in the City but using the Foot Anstey wrapper as a differentiator, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a challenge, no question. I would arrive to an empty desk and have to generate all of my own business on the basis of my contacts and track record. But it suited me perfectly. The private equity team I founded has seen 700% growth over the past 5 years, and is part of a successful Corporate practice which advises significant international, national and regional clients from our bases across the south and west of the UK.
For me, working in a firm that trusts its people with a lot of freedom is great. Foot Anstey encourages entrepreneurialism, and also risk taking – measured, calculated risk. Things don’t have to be done a certain way, just because that’s how they’ve always been done. It’s refreshing, and I love it, but it’s definitely not for everyone. For people who enjoy the prescriptive, structured ways of a more traditional firm, where work comes to you because you are an established brand, it would be a challenge. Work doesn’t just drop into your lap; you have to make things happen. But the flip side of that is that you CAN make things happen. And you can take on work that you may have to turn down in a large firm, pursue niche or work undertaken to build a relationship. The focus is on opportunity, and also on longer term relationships.
The difference at Foot Anstey, and the clincher for me, was that I could see the opportunity to take complete control over my career and my diary. Here I would have the freedom to go out into the market, supported by Foot Anstey, and build something new. I could go to the clients I’d advised in the past, and as well as working alongside former clients and colleagues, and build a practice based on differentiators for us in the crowded private equity market – focusing on management advisory and acting for portfolio companies of private equity on bolt-ons and buy-and-build investment propositions, often as a complementary legal advisor to other City based advisors. These deals, typically in the £10-50 million bracket, are perfect for us, and focusing on those deals is a real differentiator.
The other thing that’s possible when you have more freedom, is building real, deep relationships with clients. We don’t complete one transaction and move on; we look for more work with the same client, and not just for our own practice, but for our colleagues and other practices in the firm. We run Private Equity at Foot Anstey as a sector, viewing the portfolio company clients in a holistic way, working with specialist lawyers across the firm to support those relationships firmwide. This is fairly unusual in law firms, but is another differentiator we are trying to exploit in the market and further evidences the opportunities for entrepreneurial thinking at Foot Anstey.
And I needn’t have worried about the calibre of my future colleagues. At Foot Anstey, we are lucky enough to have attracted some serious talent from some of the most highly-respected law firms over the years. This in itself opens doors to high-quality client work, which then attracts more high-calibre people.
So my advice is this: be honest with yourself and decide what you really want; what’s really important to you and those that are important to you in your personal life, and then decide which firms get you the closest to that. Keep an open mind, though, and be prepared to be surprised. And do send a CV on spec - Foot Anstey were not hiring when I approached them. Highlight what you have to offer and what you want. With a firm like Foot Anstey, if we don’t have the right role for you, we might choose to create one for you if you have the aptitude, skills, calibre, contacts and CV that we think fits with an opportunity for our firm.