This week’s Start-Up Story is by Belinda, who set up her own independent ‘virtual’ law firm over 5 years ago; and has big plans for continued growth.
Tell me a little about you & your family, what your business is, and the inspiration behind getting started…
I’m married with two kids aged 14 and 11. I turned 50 in November and I’ve been a solicitor specialising in employment law for over 20 years. I moved out of the City after my first child was born and initially decided to set myself up as an independent consultant, offering employment law services to small firms who wanted to provide that service to their clients without taking on a full-time solicitor. I felt that this would enable me to continue my career but in a way that also worked around my daughter. As a result of that, I got offered a partnership in a small practice in Hampstead where I stayed until just after my son was born. At that point I was poached by another firm a few doors up the road and went into that firm, again, as a partner.
In both firms I had been able to negotiate flexible full-time hours which worked well when the children were small. Although I worked full-time (my choice), a fair chunk of that was from home. However, I had always felt that I could do so much more by starting my own practice from home, thereby abolishing the need to commute or answer to anyone else and so, 5 and a half years ago, Lionshead Law was born.
I wanted a firm that turned the traditional law firm model on its head. I abolished the hourly rate, I abolished presenteeism and I got rid of expensive overheads (like offices and support staff) to enable me to offer flexibility to solicitors and affordability to clients. Initially it was just me and just employment law.
We now offer immigration and commercial law services too. The solicitors are all self-employed and work when they want, where they want. Everything is managed by way of a cloud based document management system and Lionshead Law provides the website, insurance, online legal library, a virtual assistant, compliance, invoicing and IT support services.
How did you make the leap from idea on paper to reality with your business idea?
It took me six months to put my business plan together. I wanted to make sure that I knew exactly how I was going to do everything, exactly what sort of clients I was going to target and how I was going to pay for the start-up costs, which fortunately were relatively small, from day one before I finally handed in my notice.
How did you get your first sale or client?
I sat down at my desk and went through my contacts list on my phone. I then wrote to many of my old clients and told them about my new firm. I was so excited when I got my first retainer client and it was a pretty substantial retainer. That gave me the confidence to know that I was doing the right thing. In fact, I managed to start making money straight away. I was so enthusiastic about what I was doing that I talked about it constantly to anyone and everyone, whether I knew them or not. My practice has grown, primarily, by word of mouth and recommendations.
What ‘lucky breaks’ or helping hands have you had along the way that have really boosted your progress?
I don’t think I’ve had a lucky break, I just think that it was the right time for me to do this. I had enough experience behind me to give me the confidence to sell my services without a big name law firm behind me. I was also very lucky to have the support of my husband. It was quite a brave move on both of our parts for me to give up a well paid job for an empty desk, a laptop and a printer/photocopier!
What do you LOVE about your business and working for yourself?
I love everything about my business and everything about working for myself. I’m extremely proud of what I’ve achieved. There are now 6 solicitors and one HR consultant in the firm and it is growing all the time. It has been successful financially but has also given me the most incredible sense of achievement and satisfaction. When I help a client achieve a positive result, I know that it has all been down to my hard work in starting the firm, taking on the risk, growing the business and giving the best possible service. The tag line of Lionshead Law is “always here for you…” and that runs through everything I and my colleagues do. It is what makes us all tick. We are all parents, we all have to juggle work and home but we all know how important it is to have someone there for us and therefore how important it is for our clients to always have us there for them.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve had to do since setting up on your own?
I don’t think that there has been any one scary thing about setting up on my own. The scariest thing was taking the leap in the first place. I was earning well, my income was important to the family and it was definitely a risk. However, I knew that if things didn’t work out I could always walk back into a job so even that wasn’t particularly scary. I say that to the solicitors who are thinking of leaving their jobs to join the firm as consultants. “Don’t worry” I say, “you’re a solicitor. What’s the worst that could happen? You’ll go and get another job.”
Who is your support network that you simply couldn’t manage without?
My cleaner. Working for myself has enabled me to double my earnings and so I can now afford to pay for a cleaner every day! She does all the cleaning and all the laundry. Absolute necessities for me as I work very hard and any spare time I have I want to be able to spend either on my family or on myself (I work out three times a week with a personal trainer). Fortunately our children are now old enough that they can pretty much look after themselves. I taught them both how to cook simple food from a very early age!
What exciting plans do you have for your business over the next 6-12 months that you’d like to share?
I would love to just carry on growing and enjoying the freedom of being my own boss and the financial rewards of being in charge of a successful business that has become this way all down to me. Such an amazing feeling. I am always looking for talented solicitors to join the firm and I hope to reach between 10 and 15 within the next year – or even more!
At the moment we just do employment, immigration and commercial work as the insurance costs for those areas are relatively low (although still enormous!). However, if the right solicitor with a following or proven business development success wanted to join but was a specialist in a different practice area, I may consider expanding the range of services. It doesn’t matter where in the country our solicitors are based – the benefits of not having an office!
Want to embark on the next chapter of your very own Start-Up Story?
Sometime the hardest part of getting started is just that: getting started.
I’m Lucy, a Business Coach, and I work with women 1:1 who are starting or growing their own self-employed ventures and are craving support and missing accountability.
I offer 30-min free Consultation Calls to anyone who wants to chat about how to take their ideas forward, to figure out your next steps and talk about how coaching could help.
Get in touch now to find out how I can help you: