Editor’s Note: We welcome Nick Lindsay, a solicitor from London, who shares his experiences with leaving law and dealing with what came next. Enjoy!
When you’re sitting at your desk and thinking about leaving the law, you want your next step to be perfect. It’s only reasonable. After all, you’re leaving a career that you spent years of your life on, and probably a considerable chunk of money as well.
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry] ”
—Robert Burns, To a Mouse
The problem is, even a perfectly planned, low-risk next step could go wrong. For those of you considering something very different, the chances of your plan working out may seem remote.
This, though, is something to embrace and accept rather than to fear, as I hope my own story illustrates. Even when things don’t go to plan, opening yourself up to new opportunities can be incredibly beneficial.
Plan A: By the Book
I’m a UK corporate solicitor who trained and practised in the City of London. Like many people reading this blog, I wanted to branch out and try something different. For reasons that seemed crystal clear to me at the time (though slightly less so now), I decided that an online furniture store was the plan for me.
Whilst still working in the law, I wrote a business plan. I taught myself basic website coding; I visited furniture fairs and networked with furniture designers; I worked on the logistics, marketing, sales and administrative side of the new business. In short, I did everything that the websites and the books told you to do before setting up a new business.
I was prepared and confident that it would be a success. I quit my job and launched the business.
As you can probably guess, the business failed. In fact, it never really got off the ground. I won’t go into the detail, partly to save me from too much embarrassment, but largely because it would take too long. Suffice it to say though, a lack of capital and a lack of deep industry knowledge were probably the largest reasons for the failure.
Thank Heavens for Plan B
For a while this flummoxed me. Luckily though, I did have a fall back plan that had been germinating in my mind. It involved me returning, not to the law, but to a related industry: company secretarial services (or corporate secretarial, as it is known in the U.S.).
Whilst in private practice, I had used a variety of company secretarial firms and had been hugely unimpressed with the quality of service they delivered. So, along with a business partner, I launched Elemental. We had the aim of delivering the quality of advice and support in company secretarial services that I was used to delivering at a City law firm. I knew the clients and the law firms and I knew they were willing to pay for a quality service.
This is meant to be the part of the story where everything goes well and is a huge success. However, even when things go well, they still rarely go to plan. Although the core of the business plan worked, we were struggling to gain the volume that we needed to grow the business. Clients were happy, but there is only so much that you can charge for company secretarial work. We therefore weren’t achieving the revenue that we needed to.
Less Planning = More Flexibility
However, in many ways, the fact that I had spent less time planning Elemental allowed us to be more flexible with what the business looked like. We were less committed to a single way of working.
When a client is happy with your work and trusts that you will deliver, they often ask you to do other work, even if it’s not in an area that you are actively pushing. If we were comfortable doing the work, we’d happily oblige. After we’d been asked to provide the same service to a number of clients, we’d refine the offering and market it to all of our clients who might want it.
In this manner we’ve been able to grow our business into areas that we know our clients want help with, rather than trying to make a plan for what we think our clients want. As a result, we now provide a range of successful services, including accountancy and tax services, legal advice, HR support, Process Agent and Escrow Agent services.
Elemental does not look much like the business described in our original business plan. Planning is a useful process, but the plan needs to be adaptable, as things will always change.
Even if you’re not starting your own business, your life after leaving law is unlikely to follow the plan you’ve made for yourself. So try and keep your options open and a flexible approach, rather than worrying too much about a 5- or 10-year plan.
Nick Lindsay is a director of Elemental, a UK based corporate and company secretarial firm. He still practises law for some clients, but the majority of his time is now spent managing the business, in particular looking after clients and staff. You can reach him via the Elemental site.