My career story: "I started my own firm"
Was starting your own firm a career objective for you? How did you come to the decision?
Starting my own firm was never a career objective. While at Mishcon, I was invited to take up some non-executive positions with clients, and that insight allowed me to look at law as more of a business. Mishcons was a law firm which allowed its partners and employees to try different things; as a partner, I was given real latitude to grow the business in different ways, and that inspired me to think differently.
However, as things progressed, I wanted to challenge and tear-up established thinking around law firms for the benefit of both staff and clients.
For example, on remuneration and ownership I wanted all my staff members to share in the profits of the firm, regardless of their own individual performance that year. I also wanted greater clarity around roles and responsibilities over ownership, management, remuneration and work, which are often blurred in a partnership. To put those kind of measures in place, I needed to start again and grow a firm from scratch.
At what stage of your career were you when you made the move? Why then?
I was 13 years qualified, having been at Mishcons for 10 years – five as a partner. Although I was managing a team, and felt very comfortable with the environment at Mishcon, I had a real urge to change things and run my own business and thought that if I didn’t go for it now, I may not have the energy to leave the comfort zone and go through with it when I was older.
How difficult was the process? Would you do anything differently if you could do it all over again?
It was challenging. Lawyers are naturally risk-averse, and persuading lawyers from other city firms to join a start-up was difficult. I was never sure how many of my clients would follow; a lot of my relationships are over 10 years old and I think that certain clients appreciated the risk I was taking and wanted to show their support in backing me. I’m really grateful for that. The regulatory and administrative burden is high, although cloud-based technology has made life a lot easier for a firm in my position.
I also received advice from other practitioners who had made the move, and who had made mistakes on issues like PI, and premises. People have been really supportive.
If I did it all again, I would have set more time aside to deal with administrative matters at the start – I underestimated how big the burden was.
What are the biggest differences between your old and new jobs?
Day to day hasn’t really changed in terms of providing legal advice and running a team. The huge change is in running a business and being solely responsible for other people’s salaries and careers.
There is so much that is done behind the scenes by non-fee-earners at a law firm that I certainly took for granted. Billing and cash collection becomes a real priority; you need to have a focus on that while not compromising on quality of service. That is always paramount. Every single piece of work that comes from your firm is so important.
What would your practical advice be for something considering making the same move as you?
There’s no substitute for planning, and your first two or three hires set the tone for everything. If you try and recreate a mini-version of your last firm, it will be difficult as you won’t have the same support services or structure. You need to have a clear vision, and speaking to others who have done the same is invaluable. You need to set employees’ expectations from the start – it’s challenging and difficult, and a totally different job – but when people feel like they own something, they behave so differently.
What are some of the pros and cons of running your own firm?
The cons: the support services at a bigger firm are amazing, and you never really realise how good they were. You have to do a lot more yourself. To start with, the security has gone and it’s all on the line – your remuneration is entirely dependent upon your own performance.
The pros: you can start something from scratch and put in place a vision, with your systems, peoples and procedures. Everything matters and nothing is boring. Seeing people treating the business you started as their business is great. And certain clients can relate to you more easily – you will have all the same issues they face.