Partner, ELS Legal
It was always my intention to practise litigation because I like the idea of analysing both the law and the tactical side of the dispute to achieve a result for my client.
At ELS I found that my senior partner had potentially withdrawn millions of pounds from a client account without consent of the client.
I was left with a firm that had minus £60,000 in its office account, a huge claim against it and irreparable reputational damage. I had to report this to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the relevant criminal agency. I also had to seek a freezing order against the partner (who was my boss) to protect the client. I set about turning round the firm and within three years we had trebled turnover.
I recognised that the firm had been involved in excellent work, such as being chosen by Linklaters on behalf of the administrators of Lehman Brothers to act for clients of Lehman’s who had segregated money in Lehman’s client account. This included a four-week hearing at the High Court.
In March 2012 we were in the assigned risks pool because no one wanted to insure us as a result of what happened. We applied to the SRA for a waiver to reduce the premium. At an appeal the SRA agreed to reduce a £500,000 excess to £240,000 to be paid over 12 months. If the SRA had said no then the firm would have closed.
ELS’s commitment to quality in client service, technical expertise and teamwork has meant the past is not only firmly behind us but we are thriving. We have faced incredibly difficult challenges as a result of what happened but we have found that by working together we overcame them and that made us stronger than we could imagine.
Those experiences certainly help me advise clients because I was constantly having to navigate and solve problems.
I am only 34 and have been through a lot. I think that small firms are increasingly scared of how they are going to be treated by the SRA and that is a shame. The regulator needs to keep a sense of ‘oversight’ but should work harder to understand their needs.
I think that there is a lot more innovation in law firms, and smaller firms like us are able to attract clients that traditionally may have chosen bigger firms. This is because we can recruit the quality of staff that a bigger firm may have but the client may prefer the service. Our fees are not necessarily cheaper – you pay for what you get in this world – but we are more flexible. We are one of the few firms who have embraced damages-based agreements.