“Mr Perry, we’ve got a serious problem. You have an appetite for risk and like to see the bigger picture. You dislike details. You can’t do law with that psychometric profile.”
Those were the words of a moderator after I took a test as a trainee. I felt like Neo from the Matrix!
The truth is I never expected to become a lawyer – history and photography were my first passions – but I somewhat blindly entered the profession without much planning or foresight. I realised pretty quickly that life in a large city practice was one of two extremes, neither of which I enjoyed!
We were either working all hours and more, or I was bored with nothing to do. In one long fallow period I amused myself by photographing the same spot each day of the street below. This lasted for about 6 weeks – I realised I wasn’t long for “big” law.
I persevered, moving from corporate finance to litigation. Unfortunately things didn’t improve with the move – it was difficult to be energetic and entrepreneurial and I felt shut away and under-used; there was no dynamism and I felt remote from clients.
“You have an appetite for risk and like to see the bigger picture. You dislike details. You can’t do law with that psychometric profile”
I moved firms. Nothing changed. So I left with a view to leaving law entirely. I travelled to Southern Spain and set up my first business – sports photography – with a sideline in selling bikinis. Although this wasn’t the path to riches, I was never happier.
Then I got a call from a recruiter and, needing funds, took a temporary litigator role back in the UK. Not long after, I met the chief executive of Sports World Media Group and we got on well. I recall him saying in his Aussie accent: “You’re not a lawyer, you’re a businessman, and I’m going to help you become a millionaire.” I signed soon after.
It turned out to be a great journey and I became their main counsel. I didn’t know anything about commercial IP when I joined, so I learned it, and we took over 18 companies worldwide during my tenure. I had two amazing years but then the company went into receivership. I was the last man in the building dealing with the receivers as the board scattered to the four corners.
That taught me that businesses come and go and that no one has a right to success. It also taught me that I wanted to be in control of my own destiny, so in 2002 I set up Spring Law from my front room. The irony was that, having tried to get out of law, I was now setting up my own law company.
Today Spring Law is a Limited Company with 10 partner-level lawyers. The total head count is 30, and we use 12 consultants.
Here’s why I believe lawyers need to behave more like owner-managers – and show their dynamism and optimism – in today’s challenging market.
Good people and great clients will gravitate towards you
The test moderator who told me that lawyers can’t have an appetite for risk or a head for the bigger picture was well intentioned but I firmly believe, wrong. It’s that traditional view of what a good lawyer should (or should not) be that we must fight against. There’s more demand for entrepreneurial lawyers today than there’s ever been.
The traditional, conservative, detail-driven lawyer… is unlikely to win over entrepreneurs
One good reason why is that owner-manager clients demand an owner-manager style from their lawyers; they relate to it and gravitate towards it. Founders, by definition, have fire in their bellies. They want someone who’s “alive” and who matches their passion. The traditional, conservative, detail-driven lawyer, who is often put up as the ideal law industry personality, is unlikely to win over those sorts of entrepreneurs.
Recruiting the best people also becomes easier if you show the typical entrepreneurial characteristics of enthusiasm and optimism yourself. If you believe you will win, then people will want join you on the journey. Many people with ‘get up and go’ become disillusioned by their experiences in mid-size or larger practices, where they feel stifled. They fall out the top and the bottom, so there’s always a reservoir of good people.
An entrepreneurial culture always drives you forward
When I founded Spring Law in 2002, if you’d told me I would have 30 people on the payroll in 2015, I would have been disappointed. I dreamt bigger and the journey has taken longer than expected. But the point is that if you think like an owner-manager, you never pause to congratulate yourself and you’re always dissatisfied with your position. That’s in the DNA of owner-managers and it’s what drives them forward.
Our culture here at Spring Law is not based on that of a traditional law firm, it is far more entrepreneurial. It’s built on two pillars…
Likeability: I want Spring Law lawyers to be people who others want to have a drink with, enjoy spending time with, and who are interested in the person they are talking with. It’s just a human quality but many lawyers, oddly, don’t seem to show it.
Business acumen: Spring Law lawyers must have a little bit of business know-how about them. I like people who have done slightly different things, or who have had the gumption to leave a firm that might be paying them well because they want more.
A fighting, entrepreneurial approach means you bleed with your clients
If you are an owner-manager, or behave like one, you empathise with your owner-manager clients. Here at Spring Law, not a day goes by when we don’t talk about how we can market and sell ourselves better. How can we be more successful as a business? Are our costs too great? Are we making enough revenue? What’s our strategic vision? We are living a business. But many lawyers do not experience the realities and excitement of business; they are shut away from it.
many lawyers do not experience the realities and excitement of business; they are shut away from it
That’s why many of my clients have become close friends – we have travelled the journey together. If these guys are in trouble I know what that means for them. They know the result is as important for me as it is for them.
Finally, behaving like an owner-manager makes you a better, not a worse lawyer
Young lawyers who hear the same words that I did – that you can’t be a good lawyer if you are entrepreneurially driven; that you have to love details; that you can’t be a ‘big picture’ person – should be encouraged, not be put off.
Far from failing to be a good lawyer because of my entrepreneurialism, I have become a far better lawyer since setting up my own firm. I work harder, take on board more information and network more effectively and with greater persistence. On a daily basis I receive the oxygen I was lacking when I almost quit the profession.
So instead of discouraging lawyers from being self-starting and go-getting, and rather than shutting them away and stifling them, all law firms – big, mid-sized and small – should push that entrepreneurial approach. These exciting people are the key to the future of this increasingly competitive profession, and, in the war for talent, these are the guys and girls we want.