My career story: “I’ve got two jobs – law firm partner and pharmacist”

MCS - Richard Hough

Richard Hough qualified as a pharmacist in 1990 and as a solicitor in 2007. He continues to work as a pharmacist, despite making partner at Brabners in 2015.

Why did you go into pharmacy?

I was at a school where they fast-tracked people and ended up doing my O levels at 14 and A levels at 16. That saw me graduating from Manchester University with a Pharmacy degree at the age of 19, so I got out of the education system quicker than most people. I suppose I was one of the youngest ever pharmacists – they don’t allow you to be admitted until you are 21 so I had to wait until my birthday.

What made you move into law?

When you are in a vocational career like pharmacy you have to stick with it to some extent. I found myself in a profession that I enjoyed but it had its limitations, so I looked for other opportunities. I travelled round the world and qualified as a pharmacist in New South Wales.

I came back to the UK for family reasons, and I was working as a manager in a pharmacy for a proprietor who owned four shops. He had quite a hands-off approach to his business – meaning I was quite hands-on. He eventually sold out to a large national chain and I felt I didn’t fancy being a manager for in that type of business.

My brother owns his own pharmacy and in the early days I suppose I had followed his career. But my father was a lawyer, and when decided I wanted a change of career it kind of came full circle.

I was running a pharmacy and working north of 60 hours a week, so I did a correspondence law degree through the Open University. That was back in 2000. I worked an extra 30 hours a week over three years. Because it was a correspondence course it had no impact on my work life, and I was able to keep my salary and my mortgage payments going out.

At the end of 2003 I graduated with the top marks throughout the Open University which meant I got something called the Cavendish Prize. Off the back of that I got offered a couple of training contracts and took up a place with Cobbetts. I left in 2007 and it went into liquidation shortly afterwards – I’ll let people draw their own conclusions…

Your roles as a pharmacist and a lawyer now intersect – how did that come about?

I had the notion that I would combine my previous experience as a pharmacist with a legal environment. On qualification I went round a number of firms and said, ‘This is what I want to do, here is my business plan, but equally I know it’s unusual and you may not have an interest in investing in it.’

To be fair, it was generally well received, but firms and lawyers are by nature risk averse. A lot said, ‘We like you, but we don’t understand what you’re talking about.’

I went back to being a locum for a year and then joined Brabners in 2008. They said, ‘We can take you on as a commercial and intellectual property NQ but we see what you are trying to do, we are interested and we’ll back you and give you the resources you need in order to grow your practice area.‘

I haven’t looked back since – I’ve been given the backing and the resources, but it’s been my drive and my plan. What was quite a niche service has now grown into a much larger healthcare offering.

And you still work as a pharmacist…

Yes, at the weekend. It’s partly for my own benefit, because I do have a genuine interest in it. But my legal clients find it really useful and interesting that, if they are working in the sector, I can break down the barrier between the white-coated healthcare professional and the sharp-suited business adviser. There is often mistrust or ignorance between the two camps.

Why is that?

If you’re dealing with pharmacy businesses, they will generally be owner-managed and the attitude of the owner will be a siege mentality. Lawyers are unwelcome distractions to their main businesses. Margins are becoming increasingly squeezed, there are long hours as well, when you first start up you take on a large bank loan. You don’t particularly want to employ locums while you engage with the professional services community. I find my job a bit easier because I can say, ‘The problems affecting primary health affect me too.’

Is it a challenge keeping both jobs going?

It is hard work. I’m used to that – I have had significant periods of my life where I was working seven-day weeks, so to me it’s progress that I have a Sunday off. It does put pressure on being a partner in a goodish-sized practice.

The expectation as a partner, naturally, is that you have to work some weekends, and sometimes I do, but generally I tend to do a lot of hours during the week, so on Friday evening I’m on top of my work. Then I put my pharmacist’s head on and I’m not thinking about legal issues – I’m the type of person who can compartmentalise things.

‘A change is as good as a rest,’ is as good a way of summing it up as anything. I do the pharmacy work because I enjoy it. I get a different level of satisfaction in assisting people in that way. In a law firm you’ve got the clock on and are charging people who pay a lot of money for your advice. In the pharmacy setting you can be dealing with vulnerable, needy people. It feels purer in some respects.

I’m lucky in that I’ve managed to keep two careers going. I made partner in May 2015. That felt like I’d reached a certain point where I could take stock and some satisfaction, though I want to push on from where I am now. I’ve got a role at Brabners now tasked with doing something in the tech space similar to what I’ve done in healthcare. The intersection between healthcare and technology is going to be a massive growth area for legal services.

How different are the two jobs? Where’s the overlap in skills required?

I would say in both professions you need to be very responsive the demands of the client.

And attention to detail is absolutely critical. If I make a mistake in a pharmacy and I end up killing someone, that’s catastrophic. If I make a mistake drafting a document and a client loses a lot of money as a result, it will be damaging but not personally catastrophic. I do spend a lot of time looking at the detail. Each job has its own pressures, but in both you need to focus 100 per cent on the task in hand in order to provide the right level of service.

I’d also say that in both professions you are expected to provide an answer and not sit on the fence. A good commercial lawyer will give their clients a steer based on the risks of one or more options. Likewise in pharmacy, almost the worst thing you can do is sit on the fence, you have to take a view.

Any advice on how to juggle two professions?

I’ve realised I can drink a huge amount of caffeine before my body starts to shake…

Joking aside, I was getting by on four hours sleep for about three years. I’d come home, see my wife and daughter, then go and hit the books, then do it all over again. I think you need to have drive, focus, be organised, and it helps if you’ve got support at home. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife. She’s taken so much on to help me do what I’ve chosen to do.

I went into law when I was a little bit older and had got it clear in my head what I wanted to do. When I didn’t have the clarity of thought, the maturity or the right experiences to make me appreciate my options, so more general advice would be to get as much experience as you possibly can of different working environments to work out for yourself what suits your personality and ability.

I’ve been fortunate that Brabners has given me the opportunity. That’s important too: you’ve got to ensure you’ve got the right vehicle in which to achieve your goals.

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