My name is Nicky and I’m a lawyer. I sometimes find it hard to admit that because of the visceral reaction it can provoke in those outside the professions. But not all lawyers are the same. Promise.
I started my legal career back in the heady days of 1986. I’d read history at university and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Complete lack of career advice meant that I considered the conventional options for a history graduate at that time, either the BBC or a career in the law. Because I wasn’t Oxbridge, or confident, a career in broadcasting seemed too hard. An invitation to meet Jeremy Isaacs was turned down. I was frankly, too scared. So the law seemed to be a way of prolonging the study process, without actually getting a real job for a while. And at least at the end of it I would actually be employable. Oh those were the days…
And I hadn’t had the benefit of a year off. My father, playing the role of Victorian dad to a T, held the gun of university fees to my head at the mere mention of it. It didn’t occur to me that I would have the wherewithal to fund myself. If only I’d known how privileged I was. So an extra two years study (the conversion course, as it was then and solicitor’s finals) seemed like a reasonable option.
And I was, even at that time, obsessed with food. I spent quite a lot of my time seeking out new and interesting food and teaching myself how to cook and I really thought that I’d “do” the law for about 10 years, put away some money and then go and “do” something with food.
Fast-forward 27 years and I’m still in the law. I’m not entirely sure how that happened. A combination of recession in the 1990’s and an inability to save, meant that I never did get that restaurant nest-egg together and law just became what I did. Quite a lot of the time. For a while, I did little else. It’s easy to get sucked in by the law. At most firms, no-one will ever tell you you’re working too hard. They’ll just be calculating the profit. Until you burn yourself out.
Mine has been a love-hate relationship with the legal profession, it has to be said. I started out in a niche practice, Brecher & Co, founded by David and Henry Brecher in the 1950’s. This is where advising clients became a passion – second to food maybe, but a passion nonetheless: looking after clients, understanding what made them tick and learning how to interpret the law in terms of what it meant for their business – and how to find solutions to their legal problems – took me away from theory I had learned at law school and made me realise the law lives and breathes and can either hinder or help a business depending on how it is approached. And it was exciting to be in a firm that was so passionate about its clients, and that played such a central role in its niche marketplace – the property world.
Brecher “merged” with Nicholson Graham & Jones, an old name in the law, and much of the firm’s ethos was lost. It merged again with an American firm, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, whose strapline was “Challenge Us”. Well, its large firm politics most definitely challenged me and when it merged again with Preston Gates and Ellis to become K&L Gates, I knew it was time to go.
I wanted to return to a simpler time in the law, when it wasn’t all utilisation rates and billable hours. When you really did work in partnership and there was no internal market. When it was all about clients and the law.
So I picked up the phone to Valerie Brecher, David’s daughter and told her what I was thinking. And I’ve been back in an old-style law practice since 2007 – ironically one that is perfectly suited to the modern business age too: fleet of foot, extremely client-centred, famous for its commercial approach to the extent of putting people together to create deals, not just do the legals, and equally famous for being a “trusted advisor”. How many of those can you find in these cynical times? I’ve also had the privilege of being joint managing partner for much of my time here. I’ve never been more engaged in my life. Every day brings something unexpected and every day is a challenge. But this time it’s one I enjoy.