It was with absolute conviction that corporate lawyer Kate Partridge set out to found her own legal consultancy. She knew it was time to do something disruptive that would give her the career she needed and her clients the service that they deserved.
Early on, I was surrounded by successful women in law: the managing partner of my office; partners in my corporate environment, my supervisors and my wonderful cohort of trainees. Even before this, at school, we were told that women could achieve anything they wanted to.
As I became more senior, the prevalent presenteeism saw lawyers with families either doing less hours – and seeing their career ambitions slide as a result – or leaving altogether. The figures in the UK are narrowing but stark – 61% of solicitors are female compared to 35% of partners. This is an issue for men though too – anyone for whom work is not life. A need for flexibility is penalised in workplaces where overwork is the standard and worn like a badge of honour. The traditional model was also failing our clients who were often charged vast amounts and given the most junior of staff.
I wanted to work but I needed a new way of working that would allow me to thrive as a legal mind and as a parent. I became an entrepreneur. It took myself and my business partner, Michelle, three months to launch our legal consultancy. At the time, it seemed to take an age but looking back, I now appreciate how fast we moved.
There was a vast amount of preparation involved and this is key in the legal world in which you are working within a framework. We spent a lot of time considering not just what we needed to do – our law firm application with the regulator etc – but how we would get things done. Like any start-up, we also had to think about IT; accounting software; website and insurance.
We were driven not just by a desire to succeed but to deliver something special. The legal consultancy model isn’t new. It is, however, gaining traction. In April 2022, a report suggested that legal services firms operating a consultancy model are growing at three times the rate of mid-market law firms as a whole. Let’s add to this the statement made by stockbroker Arden Partners, that a third of all lawyers in the UK could be working under this model within the next five years.
This model is based around flexibility, empowering highly trained lawyers to work hours that suit whilst remaining dedicated to their clients. It is agile working for the legal profession. One of our lawyers led a multi-million-pound reverse takeover, during the Pandemic, with three children at home. She did such a terrific job that the whole deal team was impressed. We now have thirty lawyers working for us and have won Female Founded Law Firm of the Year two years in a row.
Do I feel validated by our decision to step off the well-worn track? Completely – not least because we are carving a path for other lawyers. Not only that but we are helping other female entrepreneurs striving to make their dream a reality. We understand our commercial clients in a far more powerful way now having been on this entrepreneurial journey. For these reasons, and more, neither of us were scared about the decision to found a startup. We wondered whether our clients would come with us and whether we would attract talented senior lawyers; but the conviction was always there.
A key decision, looking back, was to fund ourselves. This meant we kept our plans to ourselves but also never had to go to market and be turned down. For those reading this piece who need external support, however, it will be tough but keep dusting yourself down and focus on the vision of what you want to achieve.
Being solely reliant on ourselves absolutely fitted our personalities. I am not sure either of us has ever felt like we needed to ask permission to do anything in life! As we’ve grown, we have had a few people treat us with an air of condescension but that has only made us more relieved that we are our own bosses. It has also made us steer clear of those outfits and networks. You can’t be a disrupter without ruffling a few feathers!
I am also so very glad that I have my business partner, Michelle, to support me. The life of a business owner or entrepreneur can be a lonely one and a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows so look after yourself – and your co-founder. Take breaks once in a while to gain perspective and also to celebrate your wins. I remember the exact moment when we were granted our licence by the SRA – the regulating body for lawyers. It was wonderful.
The decision to become an entrepreneur was quickly taken and the actual creation of our venture happened fast; but this is a change that will now set the course for the rest of my legal career. I only hope that another female lawyer, perhaps exhausted from stress and doubting her future, may read this and see there is a parallel path – one offering vast possibilities – she can step onto.