Why did you decide to start your own law firm, and did the pandemic have any influence on that?
Elena - This might surprise a few people, but I never planned on starting my own law firm. My ambition had always been to qualify as a solicitor and become partner within an established firm. I qualified as a solicitor in 2016 and was made partner at the firm in 2019. It was only after I had achieved the goal that I had set myself before I looked at my future in law. I love my job as a personal injury solicitor, but I felt frustrated with a lot of aspects of my role, which, even as a partner, I knew I couldn't change.
It was the pandemic that got me thinking about starting my own firm. I realised that clients were less concerned about how big your office was, or how many members of staff you had, and more concerned about their cases being looked after and progressed. It made little difference that you were working from home, so long as you were available to answer calls or emails. I had a 'now or never' moment and realised that if I wanted to continue to have a happy and fulfilling career in personal injury, I would have to do it on my terms. I had to create a firm that I wanted to work in, a firm that clients wanted to instruct, and a firm I could be proud of.
Of course, starting any business in a middle of a pandemic was never going to be easy or straightforward. I faced a lot of obstacles and spent a lot of time worrying about how a new business would survive, but I am incredibly proud of how far I have come since launching The Injury Solicitor in December 2020.
Paul - The pandemic was not really a factor in our decision to start a new firm, beyond perhaps enabling time not spent on the commute to put plans into action. It had been an ambition of Anne (Felmingham – co-founder) and I to open our own niche practice for a couple of years.
What spurred us on to do what we did was the desire for flexibility around working from home with the family, and overall having more autonomy in all respects, particularly in relation to how to attract and manage our work. Being at home during the pandemic gave us a flavour of what it might feel like to work for ourselves.
Would you say that having to work from home because of the pandemic was a help or a hindrance?
Elena - I have loved working from home. In fact, it played a huge role in me deciding to set up my law firm. I loved the freedom it afforded me to structure my day in a way that suited me better. I found time to exercise in the mornings, as opposed to rushing to get ready, and spending more than an hour travelling to work. I also enjoyed the fact that I could go to my local park for a walk at lunch and there was no frantic rush to get home during rush hour at the end of the day.
I am happy to see so many firms embracing the working from home culture, but I suspect many law firms will revert to full time office-based working. This is something that I never wanted to do again. Having said that, I am currently looking for an office space as I would like to trial a hybrid working option where I would work two days a week in the office and two to three days at home. I say two to three days as it is possible that I will consider a four-day working week in the future.
Paul - Absolutely, this was extremely helpful as it gave us flexibility to put plans into effect.
Was there any point along the way where you have had any regrets?
Elena - Absolutely, there was a point where I was still working my notice period at my previous firm, and I just had a moment of realisation that I was about to jump into the unknown. After ten years of employment that is an incredibly scary thought, especially when you have a mortgage and bills to pay.
The first few months in business were incredibly difficult. You spend that time finding your feet, desperately looking for your first clients, and praying for a miracle. Of course, there are no miracles in business (or very few) and it is only through consistent hard work that you start to see results.
I have had many moments thinking about whether I should have waited until the pandemic was over (I am glad I didn't as I'd be waiting a very long time), or whether I should have saved more money to invest in the business, but the truth is that there will never be a perfect time to start a business. If you look hard enough, you will always find an excuse to stop yourself.
Looking back now, I do not regret my decision to start my business. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made, irrespective of whether the business will be an overall success, which I hope it will be. I will always remain incredibly proud of my decision to start, scale, and grow a law firm during a pandemic.
Paul - No, ask me in a year!
With hindsight, can you tell us about something that you might have done differently?
Elena - I would have taken more time and effort over my website. I really rushed my website as there were a million other things I had to do, and I didn't put in anywhere near as much effort as I should have. This meant having to almost start again later down the line, which was a real pain. At the time I think I just thought 'right, let's get a website up, it doesn't matter whether it's good or not as long as we have a website'. This was the wrong way of looking at it, especially when most of your clients will find you online. It is your virtual shop front and taking time to make sure it's perfect early on will really pay off (and save you headaches later on).
Paul - Underestimating the amount of time taken to put the building blocks in place to open the firm – that is certainly something I would approach differently. Sometimes cutting corners with basic set up because you don't know how to do something results in a huge loss of time.
Example being, we didn't know how to set up template documents and rather than ask, we hand-generated the letters and posted them, costing many hours and much postal expense. Time is your biggest asset and you can't afford to waste any. Every day that you're doing admin, you're losing money.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Elena - My biggest challenge has been establishing myself and attracting the right type of clients. As a new firm, you have no standing in the industry. Your name will not be recognised in the way that many of your competitors are. People simply will not know anything about you and your business. Getting the message across that you are open for business and why people should use you instead of an established law firm is incredibly difficult. Even six months on, it's not getting any easier. But this is where consistency is key and eventually, I hope that people cannot think of me without thinking about what I do for a living.
When you have your own business, being associated with that business, and people recognising you for your contribution to your area of law is incredibly flattering. I have never been prouder to be a personal injury solicitor as I have been since starting my business.
Paul - Organisation and integration of accounting systems/software solutions has been our biggest ongoing challenge. As we are not finance specialists, we will continue to struggle with this. It is important to set up relationships with people who can guide and support you through this and not to leave it until last to do.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is thinking of taking the plunge, what would it be?
Elena - To connect with others who have started their own firms and learn from their experiences. This is something that I did not do when I was setting my business up, but I wish I had. Once I had launched, I then connected with some incredible law firm founders through LinkedIn, and it was the best thing I did. They were incredibly generous with their time and took the time to speak with me, give me advice and make some great recommendations. Starting a business can be very lonely, by connecting with others who have done the same, you build your own network of colleagues who understand the challenges you might face in your journey.
Paul - Absolutely you should do it, it's the best, most liberating experience. Your pressures come in different ways, so my advice would be to get the foundations right before you start to build, meaning take it slow to ensure that the business is set up before pressing the start button. If it takes you six months longer before leaping from the day job, that six months will save you a huge amount of time in your initial trading period.
Also, my advice would be to ensure you have adequate financial backing in place to fund your first few months without billing as inevitably no matter how well you prepare, there will be work you need to do that you cannot charge for. Also do not waste evenings before your start, spend the time preparing draft social media content as this can take ages when you want the message out there. Have a marketing strategy prepared too, this is your lifeblood.
For guidance and advice regarding how we can assist new start-up law firms, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.