In my first post I told the story of my journey to starting my own law firm, White Collar Legal. Although I had behind me years of experience working at law firms, my qualifications in law were limited to Paralegal and BTEC qualifications in Civil Litigation and Personal Injury law.
In April 2013, many of you will be aware (and if you are not, where have you been?) of the Jackson Reforms which increased the Small Claims Limit from £5,000 to £10,000. These reforms resulted in many firms declining to take on Small Claim cases due to the lack of recoverable costs and as a result, this opened an opportunity for me to set up my firm White Collar Legal.
Juggling Employment and my Own Firm
With the aim of assisting litigants in the Small Claims arena, the firm was set up and I marketed on sites like Peopleperhour.com to provide legal advice and assistance in Small Claim Civil Litigation matters at a rate of four times the minimum wage (somewhere around £28 per hour at that time).
During this time, my day job was at Byrne & Co and I was doing the work for my own clients during the evenings and weekends (and in many cases during my lunch). This was the first step to owning my own firm.
I left Byrne & Co in around February 2014 and spent a few weeks just working on my new venture and then I had the opportunity to join KWLC Legal Costs in March 2014.
However, White Collar was still growing and I was working not only a full-time position at KWLC but also working too many hours at the weekend and evenings.
At the end of February 2015, I was presented with an opportunity to undertake an advocacy course at Ashley Taylors; with a focus on Landlord/Tenant. I attended on their residential course and thereafter undertook a further week of ‘live’ training, but I failed to meet the grade to join their panel.
Progression to Court Advocacy
At the end of the first week (with Ashley Taylors), I had left KWLC and opted to go it alone continuing with the business model of Small Claims work, but also with a view to gaining work as a freelance costs draftsman.
Whilst I failed to meet the standard of Ashley Taylors, I had gained valuable advocacy skills and started to advertise my services to solicitors as a ‘solicitors’ agent’ able to attend hearings in Chambers/Private with a focus on Landlord/Tenant and Infant Approval Hearings.
Whilst I did not meet the grade with Ashley Taylors, I asked Ashley Taylors to consider my position with their agency for Infant Approvals only on the basis that I had extensive experience in Personal Injury. They agreed and quite ironically, they provided me with my first case as an advocate – a hearing in Sheffield in a Landlord/Tenant case. Confused, I contacted them to make sure of the case type and was told that whilst I did not meet the grade the reason why I had not done so was because it was felt I was not able to handle more than one hearing at the same Court in the same sitting – my knowledge of the law however was no issue.
I conducted the case (a S.21 possession) and all went well. Since then, I have had conduct of 120 hearing of various types including Landlord/Tenant possession, mortgage repossession, enforcement, bankruptcy and Infant Approvals.
Building an Established Business
My experience as an advocate has opened more doors than I can imagine with instructions now coming from solicitors not only for hearings but also cost drafting, locum fee earning and consultancy work.
I continue to take up instruction from Litigants in Person including SME’s and I am now working as a consultant/locum fee earner for 4 different solicitor firms.
I have in my employ one member of staff and have my own office, located just 5 huge giant leaps away from my house in my back garden.
As before with my Paralegal Qualifications, I am gaining the experience before taking further study and have just enrolled with the CILEx Law School to start my Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law with a target of becoming a Fellow of CILEx in the next 4-6 years.
Was Making the Call to Work before Study the right decision?
Whilst it is too late for me to contemplate whether the right decision was to work then study, in my opinion and in my scenario, it has worked best. One of the positive outcomes of the choices I have made in my professional career is having the opportunity to tell this story. I have become (and whilst not on a great scale) someone who is established in the industry; who can be turned to for advice on a varied range of issues regarding civil litigation and costs. People come to me for advice include solicitors and legal executives (some of many years standing).
I also do not have student debt – I’ve made (and continue to make) my money and I intend to invest it in my knowledge to make the service I provider greater – whether that be in my own firm or at others in the future. (One big financial benefit – my PII is cheaper – approximately £350 a year)
Of course, the biggest pro of all them all is I have experience. I have not had 6 years of study to then come in to the world of work knowing very little of the real world of practice. I can hit the ground running. Really, how many ‘lawyers’ can say they own their own law firm (or are a partner) without ever obtaining a law degree?
There are however negatives (and I’m really trying to think of some). I have no concept of common Latin phrases. I have no rights to carry out any reserved activities (not certainly to their fullest extent). As I sit here on a Sunday afternoon about to start my first study exercise (Level 3 Contract), I have no regrets on my “backward” path to career progression, but I’d be happy to hear any views you have.
Note by Ben: For an overview of the legalities of legal service provision by Paralegal run law firms, please review Philip Nam’s separate post on LinkedIn here.
Court Picture: By Kaihsu Tai (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons