Founder of Roche Legal, Harrogate
I decided that I wanted to be a solicitor when I was about 15. I saw the film Presumed Innocent starring Harrison Ford who was playing a flash attorney. I thought the law was glamorous!
My A-level law teacher was a legal executive, and during the course I saw a job advertisement for a small local law firm looking for a trainee legal executive. Although my plan had been to go to university to study law, I decided to apply for the trainee post – and got it. I have not looked back. I believe starting my career in a law firm at 18 has given me such a depth of experience from the get-go. After qualifying as a fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives, I then went straight to the University of the West of England to complete my LPC and PSC to qualify as a solicitor, with no need to find a training contract.
Setting up on my own was fairly straightforward but it is important to prepare a full business plan, including cashflow forecasts to set out the viability of what you are proposing
Having started my legal career in a civil litigation department, I then tried my hand at conveyancing. But I decided that neither of these areas was for me. I wrote to a number of firms who had vacancies in family law and private client work, and was very fortunate to be offered a job, while still training, at a firm in the Cotswolds. My training principal was a super private client solicitor with a background in family law. I was at this firm for eight years and still think of them very fondly for all the excellent training and experiences I received there.
Some lawyers may consider private client law to be dull, but I can assure you, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We see it all, from clients cutting their nearest and dearest out of their will; to interesting challenges around mental capacity; to complex inheritance tax files. I would say one of the biggest demands, however, has to be managing client expectations, especially when emotions are running high.
I spent a year in Paris in 2012/13 after being awarded the HM Hubbard Law Scholarship and completed a master’s degree in French and European law at the Sorbonne. This year out gave me important perspective and also the courage and confidence to seriously consider setting up on my own. It was a fairly straightforward process, but I did a huge amount of research beforehand. This was particularly important as, when I returned to the UK, I was living in a completely new area and did not know anyone. My accountant was the first port of call and it all went from there. The SRA requirements were also straightforward, but it is important to prepare a full business plan, including cashflow forecasts to set out the viability of what you are proposing.
Without a doubt, receiving the Law Society Sole Practitioner of the Year award last October was a memorable career highlight. I am still on cloud nine and it has done wonders for my practice, which has just celebrated its fifth birthday and opened its second office.
We sole practitioners have many hats. I am fortunate that I really enjoy the business side of my practice and business development generally. I still run my own files and do plenty of fee-earning, but there is an awful lot of business management, compliance, HR and financial management to undertake. I have enjoyed learning all about the business world. I do not see running a solicitors’ practice as any different to running any other business – and it is really important to keep on top of it all. It is also vital to know when to take a break and spend time away from the business, as it can get overwhelming at times.
To become a sole practitioner, there are a number of points to bear in mind. You need to get your network in order, identify an accountant who is on the same page as you, and surround yourself with like-minded people who will support and encourage you. Other solicitors and sole practitioners are a mine of information and do not be afraid of putting yourself out there – as daunting as it is. Most fellow professionals I have met have had nothing but helpful advice for me. Pass that advice on to others. Listen to everyone but make your own decisions about the business you want to create. And, above all, keep going.