What first pushed me towards a legal career was when aged 17 I became a punk rocker and wanting to challenge authority. Law felt like a way to achieve that objective.
I was a law student at John Moores University in Liverpool , I then undertook my training contract with a firm in Bootle, Benjamin Kay & Co. I qualified with them and shortly afterwards I was representing a client in Liverpool Magistrates Court when this lawyer came over to me and said: “I have been watching you and you are good, do you want to come and work for me?” The lawyer was Rex Makin who in the 1980s was the most well-known lawyer on Merseyside. I accepted his offer and it was amazing experience for a young, newly-qualified solicitor. The guy was light years ahead of everyone else in the profession. Later when I joined DWF I found out that their insurance team had a separate department that was dedicated to dealing only with correspondence from Rex Makin!
I was always interested in what made businesses tick so that’s probably why I ended up specialising in commercial and business law. The best bit of the job for me is still walking around a company with the management team while they tell me what the business does and all that goes into the product or service. As a lawyer, I don’t think you can properly serve the client unless you fully understand how the business works.
I started at DWF in 1990 as an assistant solicitor doing a mixture of commercial litigation and insolvency law-related disputes. My role developed with promotion to salaried partner, equity partner, managing partner of the Manchester office and board member for 12 years. People sometimes ask me why did I spend so much time at DWF? The answer was that the firm was constantly evolving and growing throughout the 25 years I was there and it created many new and very interesting opportunities for me to pursue, so I stayed as long as they wanted me around!
After that I needed a new challenge and my present role at Leonard Curtis Legal Limited offered this to me. Although clients often said to me that I should set up my own firm I never did because I realised I would not be able to sleep at night! Leonard Curtis had been clients for many years while at DWF and they presented me with an opportunity to run a firm very much on my own terms, but with their financial and commercial support. So I joined them in 2016 and we have seen significant growth in the firm in just four years.
We were able to recruit some excellent lawyers from mainly large nationally based law firms, many with international reach. This recruitment strategy has really paid off as we can now provide a wide range of services both for Leonard Curtis itself, but also for many other clients.
The current pandemic has not affected the type of work in my in-tray to any great extent. We are always busy and therefore our work has continued with a few war stories, some good, some not so good about how businesses have reacted to the challenges caused by the virus. Due to my experience in the management of a law firm, a lot of our work involves supporting other law firms, especially where they have financial pressures.
Recognising when a law firm is in distress and what steps to take is never easy. The first signs of trouble is often when the principles of the firm begin to fall out. Such disagreements often mask the underlying issues with the business that start to unravel. It is often the usual story, too much lock up in work in progress, bills not being issued on time or in some cases not at all and then poor cash collections. But the underlying issue is normally culture. Get the culture wrong in a professional services environment and no matter how fancy the offices, there will be problems. One of the things that I was most proud of at DWF was that I felt that we got the culture right and I am sure that was a major reason why the firm grew so rapidly.
How easy is it for a law firm to recover? It is very difficult, the historic structure of many law firms means that when a firm hits a sticky patch, it can go downhill quickly, the good lawyers sometimes leave with their clients and then what may be an already cash strapped business falls into a downward spiral.
The hardest case I was ever involved in was the restructuring of the Kwiksave supermarket chain back in the early noughties. I did not go to bed for three days!
In terms of most memorable career highlights, I led the team at DWF that took over the Cobbetts firm in 2013. We acquired a business employing over 400 people in three different cities and we did the entire deal in two weeks and we did not lose one client in the transfer. It was also transformational for the combined businesses.
Looking back, and incredible though it seems, the other memory is the morning in 1981 when I drove to the local paper shop near my parent’s house, bought The Times and found the page with all the results of the Law Society Final Exams and my name was there. I had passed all heads first time, I was on my way to being a solicitor. The letter with confirmation came two days later!
Take a look at the article on The Law Society Gazette here.
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