Posted on 5 November 2023
Journal of a busy father, balancing work as a Commercial Property Consultant Solicitor and family in the West Midlands…this week’s topic is…well, doing just that!
Welcome back to my semi-regular blog posts about life as a Consultant Solicitor. I work as a Commercial Property Partner with Nexa Law. Mixed with this I am an active parent to my two boys aged 7 and 5, with my fantastic wife. Consulting is the best balance I have found yet for juggling the two. In this column I range over different aspects of life as a Consultant. Maybe you are considering consultancy as your next career move? Maybe you are curious as to what you are getting when you instruct a Consultant Solicitor? If so, read on…
Balancing Work and Family
A conversation on LinkedIn last week sparked me off to bring back the “Father in Law” blog. We shared stories about how every decision in the past 5/6 years in his case, and nearly 10 in mine, had been focused around placing our children in the centre. When we had our children Christened, the Vicar talked about placing your children in the centre of love – God’s love, family love, community love. It was an image that really stuck with me, and has been the guiding principle really of my journey to Consultancy. Family and children are the most important things – centre those and you are putting the most important things first. Here’s a look back at how I got here.
When I started my career, I worked at a large international law firm, Eversheds. It was great. I worked with a group of like minded go-getters, had fantastic training that only a big firm can give, and really enjoyed my job. I threw everything into it, worked hard, and had a great social life with my team. Work was definitely getting its (more than) fair share of the balance. Hours were long: 9-7pm would be “average” and 9-10pm/11pm/12pm not out of the ordinary. Many would be the time I would race for the last train at 11:15pm, or have to check into the Premier Inn up the road. I didn’t mind really – it was the focus of my life at that time, and I wanted to be really good at it.
Balancing Life – The First Try
After my Mum fell ill in 2011, it made me think a bit more about life. How precarious and precious it is. What we want to get out of it. I met my (eventually to become) wife and I began to see what life could truly have to offer. Looking around at my situation at work, I decided that I didn’t want it to be my be all and end all.
My first attempt at balancing work and family was to drop to 4 days a week in 2014. It was an unusual step, and set me apart from my peers. I think I was the first man to request it in the team, which I think says a lot more than I can explore in this particular post. However, I wanted to carve out space to help look after Mum, and had an eye to having children in the future. I wanted them to be able to see their Daddy, not just hear about how I was at “work” (whatever that means to a child).
My employer was very good about it (in fact, through the whole time I was dealing with Mum’s illness, I can’t fault them – rather than being the rapacious corporate beast you might expect, they gave me all the space and time I needed. It is why, I think, I remained loyal and stayed with them for so long – 11 years).
Balancing Life – the Next Step
However, working 4 days a week doesn’t really work (or didn’t, at that time) in a large international law firm. They want you, heart and soul, all the time. After building up my “days off” into a “week of days off” (that I then worked, albeit at home in bed) I started thinking about another solution. The next step was to move to a smaller firm. I moved on the birth of my first son. I saw a law firm had an office in my home village, Kinver, and wondered what it would be like to work there. After a few interviews, and a bit of soul-searching about the fears of “downgrading” so to speak, I went for it.
I stayed with this firm for 5 years. It was a necessary next step in my journey. They closed the Kinver office on my second day, but in many ways I wasn’t ready for it. I worked in Birmingham and Kidderminster, and learnt how to act for “real” clients – SME’s, people – rather than mega-corporates.
Various personal issues meant that I fell ill in 2019, and that again put things into perspective. I moved to a 20 hour week, so that I could help my wife, my children and myself. However, being an employed solicitor still didn’t quite feel right. Every year your target would go up by 10% or 20%, but your salary certainly wouldn’t. I was reminded by my firm when I fell ill that my target would remain the same regardless. Nice. There was no major big bang moment, but a series of niggling things that built up over time. Eventually, I questioned why I was working so hard to line someone else’s pockets.
Balancing Work and Family – the Solution
The solution (or at least, the best solution I have found to date) was to work for myself. I chose Nexa Law as my consultancy platform in 2021, and have been so delighted by that choice. For those of you who don’t know, a consultant solicitor essentially runs their own business. They still work through a regulated and insured firm, but that firm is the “platform” for their business, rather than their employer. I live and die by my own efforts, so it has different challenges. But at least I know that if I put in the effort, the rewards now are mine.
Nexa don’t set me a target. I can work as hard or as little as I like. This year I had a busy February through to June, so I took some time out over the Summer to be with our children more.
Nexa are super flexible. When I wasn’t keen on their searches provider, it was no issue to them for me to use my own, trusted partner, from many years’ use.
Nexa have a cohort of similarly motivated experts. If you are a sole practitioner, you only have yourself. As a consultant, you always have the option to refer a client to a fellow consultant who specialises in a different area to you. You can use this to grow your practice, earn more money, and keep your clients serviced in exactly the same was as if you were at a traditional practice. However, I generally find that as opposed to a traditional practice, the consultants you refer to are also motivated business owners, so provide a better service. If they don’t, well, it’s your choice whether you refer to them again, rather that being imposed on you because that is firm “policy”.
So now, I work for myself. The fruits of my labours are much more directly mine. Finally, I can centre my children by choosing my own hours. I can make a success of balancing work and family. I choose when I work, how I work and where I work. I’ve rented my own office, as I like having a professional place to meet clients and a focused place that doesn’t contain the washing, ironing or other multitude of things that might distract you at home. But I’ve rented it 5 mins up the road, so I’m not losing hours in commuting travelling to where an employer wants me to work. In fact, I’m just a few doors up from the office I planned to move to from Eversheds. Whatever your dreams, you can get there in the end if you keep trying.
If you are an employed solicitor, has my story has piqued your interest? Are you already a consultant, but made the wrong choice and are already with a more restrictive/inflexible model? If so, remember, nothing is set in stone. There are other options. If you’d like an informal chat to find out more you can contact me on email@example.com. That will come through directly to me. If you prefer, you can check out my LinkedIn profile and Facebook page, and drop me a DM. I’m always happy to have a chat with aspiring consultants, and I’ve done several of these recently. I can talk you through the pros (and cons), and you can decide for yourself whether it is suitable. It might be the next evolution of your journey too.
Thanks for reading my above article, and I look forward to seeing you on the next blog post!