When people ask me why I got into law, I usually give them two answers: the lawyer’s answer, and then the real one. What’s the difference? None. Not because the answers are the same, but because it really doesn’t matter what the answer is.
What matters in this profession is how persuasive you can be, how compelling your story is and how strongly you can evidence the narrative. And 9 times out of 10, that’s also the law.
I grew up in the Buckinghamshire countryside. My parents were entrepreneurs who worked their way up from juggling 3 jobs each on the breadline to starting their own successful engineering business and taking an early retirement. As with most children, I took my childhood for granted at the time, not knowing much beyond my own environment.
To say I was a feral child would probably be an understatement. I was the skinny, gobby beanpole who would snap back and give as good as he got, sometimes to my own detriment. But somehow, I could talk my way out of most trouble I attracted.
This got me by and, without knowing, set me up for what life had in store for me. After finishing college, my first real job was working in telesales at the Phones International Group, one of Peter Jones’ companies, before going into more sophisticated sales roles and finally moving into complex sales and strategy positions in London at a then FTSE 100 company. The key thread that ran through each of these roles? Problem solving. Whether dealing with objections, dithering decision-makers or gaps in business offerings, these issues seemed to have common-sense solutions – at least from my perspective.
It was only at the age of 25 that the thought of doing something more challenging struck me. It was either going to be law or medicine and I didn’t really fancy working in a hospital. I decided law would be the better option and would open more doors in business. I was already running rings round people in discussions, so why not do it professionally I thought? Being a fairly impulsive person, I took no time in enrolling on a law degree. Work didn’t stop, but I did make the switch to a slightly more relaxed role as a lifeguard to earn a few extra pounds in between lectures.
I absolutely love swimming and have done so all my life, but as a lifeguard, there’s rarely any opportunity to do so and it’s fairly dull. You sit on poolside waiting for someone to start drowning (which in reality never happens), and only get up to stretch your legs once in a while before returning to your chair. But you do get to chat to the swimmers and, naturally, colleagues from time to time.
Speaking to the children’s swimming teachers, I learnt they were getting paid more than me for working fewer hours, plus the added benefit that teaching children to swim looked like it was actually quite fun. I quickly trained up and completed the ASA teaching qualifications and started to take on swim classes for children from 4 to 15 years old.
Time flew by and, before I knew it, I had left university, finished law school and was lucky enough to have three training contracts offered to me from past connections in the city. I took the one offered by a boutique London-based litigation practice led by an ex-Clifford Chance solicitor.
Perhaps it was the troublemaking in my youth, or something else, but I just found litigation straightforward. The rules were clear, and I could be persuasive while following them, which no doubt stemmed from talking my way out of trouble in my younger years. But more so, I had become intelligent in my arguments and was therefore compelling when I spoke. I could see solutions and the evidence needed where others couldn’t. And lastly, I could piece everything together to build a legal argument to the advantage of my clients, all while repeatedly winning cases.
Despite my newfound profession, I couldn’t work under someone else for long. It just wasn’t for me. All I wanted to do was continue to be out of my comfort zone and seek new challenges whilst creating opportunities, both for myself and others.
Living through my parents’ sacrifices to scale up a business and create livelihoods for their employees and for our family, I wanted to do the same. I knew I could offer an experience in a new firm that others rarely did. One which would address the common issues clients complain about rather than paying lip service to them. A firm that centres around maintaining the highest quality of service, with a commercial focus. In 2017 I incorporated Britton and Time Limited, which would be the vehicle for my future law firm.
I’ve always been a firm proponent of building meaningful and lasting relationships rather than one hit wonders. One who cares about customers rather than cashing in on their misfortunes and moving on to the next.
There was just one blocker: the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the body that oversees law firms, requires anyone running a practice to have a minimum of 3 years’ experience as a solicitor – experience I didn’t have just yet. But that wasn’t going to stop me. Instead, I found a firm in Brighton for sale, Martin Ross Solicitors, led by a sole practitioner looking to retire.
To be honest, Brighton was a bit of a wildcard. As with most people, I’d only ever visited as a tourist to grab some mini doughnuts and lounge by the sea. Business-wise, I knew nothing about the area. I did my homework and saw there was a thriving community of law firms, which meant one thing: the market for legal services must be sizeable, and therefore so must the opportunity.
After purchasing the practice and jumping through the regulatory hoops, I was approved by the SRA for exceptional permission to lead the practice, which then traded as Britton and Time Solicitors.
Fast forward 3 years and we’ve grown to 16 members of staff, with another 4 set to join this month. Brighton is a fantastic city, but it doesn’t have the natural pull or reputation that London has for people seeking a career in law. Recruitment and attracting the best talent aren’t always easy, but we have managed to attract some hard hitters from good city firms which has given us the edge over local firms that haven’t benefited from the same level of training.
The vast majority of our back of house team come from Brighton and the surrounding areas, and many have joined as apprentices, who I hope will stay with Britton and Time to develop their careers further.
When recruiting, I look for one thing above anything else: a traditional hard-working ethic. If you’re looking for a full hour lunch break and 9 – 5 then that’s not going to work for our clients. Our clients want access to their lawyers when they need them and often at times when we least expect it.
It still shocks me now when I sit down with some clients and ask them why they chose Britton and Time. A sizeable number say they phoned around 5 or 6 firms locally, and we were the only ones to pick up.
The only ones.
What else could these other firms possibly be doing? A shopkeeper would be silly to ignore customers at the till, so why would we not pick up every call into our business?
This is why I am so particular when it comes to recruitment. I simply don’t want to employ someone who has settled into the mindset that clients are an inconvenience, or that doing just enough to get by is okay. It’s not okay! Taking on talent in its nascent state is important and the sooner we get a professional starting on their journey then better it is for the firm and their career in general. Instilling shared business ideals and showing how they benefit not only the firm but also the employees and clients is the key to any business’ success.
COVID-19 and lockdown were pivotal for Britton and Time. Back in March 2020, there were just 4 of us and I remember gathering everyone together in the office the day before lockdown kicked in. I told them we would be ok, that we were small enough, and luckily solvent enough that we could weather the storm. I had seen downturns in the economy before, both in 2002 and 2008. We shut our doors for about a month, until new guidance came out that, as a law firm dealing with wills and probate, some of our staff were classed as key workers and allowed to continue operating from the office.
While many businesses were forced to work from home, we were fortunate in that we were one of the few services able to see clients under particular circumstances.
The uncertainty of lockdown also meant that many law firms were sadly letting go of newly qualified solicitors. As the pandemic loomed outside, inside we invested heavily into recruitment and doubled down on our online presence. It was a calculated risk, which paid off. We were able to take on solicitors from other firms who were fed up with home working and who saw working in the office as an opportunity to partially return to normality, and we gained a significant number of clients who were simply unable to get in touch with their usual law firms.
I know staying open has been a luxury in the past year and a half, and one for which I’m grateful. However, even in non-COVID times, I have never been a fan of home working. When it comes to the law, there is no better way of learning and training than challenging each other in person. Often, there are times in the office when we’re debating the best way forward for a client, and someone comes up with a brilliant solution, then someone else trumps it with a better one. It’s not as dramatic as it is on TV like on Suits, but by working together, we’re able to do the best for our clients. More importantly, we all want to do the best by our clients. It’s more than just a job.
Zoom, Skype and Teams have come a long way over the last year, but they are nothing new. I was speaking to clients on Skype in 2005 and even then, it was no substitute to face to face meetings – and still isn’t.
As we’ve eased out of lockdown, what’s struck me most is how businesses have adapted to the challenges it presented. Some haven’t been able to operate at all, some were faltering and were dealt a death blow, and others have thrived through sheer determination and good strategic planning.
My father used to tell me to make the most of the times when business is good, because it won’t always stay that way, and it’s a lesson I’ve held close to heart. That’s why we offer such a range of legal services at Britton and Time. I don’t want the firm to be pigeonholed into only doing divorce, or conveyancing or only wills. In reality, that doesn’t benefit anyone. I enjoy variety, but my main reasoning for this is to ensure that the business survives through any hard times, which will always be inevitable. After all, what happens to all the conveyancers if the housing market crashes?
But I don’t only think in terms of the law, or indeed of Britton and Time. There are so many other areas or ‘verticals’ that touch upon the law or professional services, and which work in tandem with us such as estate agents, financial advisors, mediators, and accountants.
Many of these sectors are booming, especially in smaller towns and cities, but as with the law, they are plagued with traditional businesses crying out for modernisation and an approach which can attract a newer and younger audience.
What I really want to do is apply the same model that has been applied time and time again and bring these sectors under one roof. Car dealerships are no longer just car dealerships; now they’re loan providers, body shops and, in some cases, merchandise outlets. Supermarkets no longer just sell groceries; they sell electronics, phones and data plans, and insurance.
It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s going to take a good amount of determination to achieve, but I feel like we’ve started on that journey, so watch this space.