Richard Bates is a later life solicitor with over 17 years post qualification experience. Having spent a large part of his career as a Partner in two large mid- Sussex practices and built a reputation as a lead driver for later life planning in Sussex Richard decided to take his career path into consultancy. In 2018 Richard joined Cognitive Law as a self-employed consultant solicitor.
Making the decision to become a consultant solicitor takes much thought and preparation. We understand it is not a quick or easy choice, and strive to ensure all our solicitors have as much information they need to make an informed decision. So, to help solicitors thinking of becoming a consultant solicitor, we asked Richard for an honest and frank account of what it was like starting out as a consultant solicitor.
What first attracted you to the idea of becoming a consultant solicitor?
Above all else it was the life work balance. Being able to choose when I work meant I could spend more time with my family, and on my passions like cycling. I liked the idea of not having to ask permission to do anything between the hours of 9am-6pm. I love my work and didn’t want to work less hours, but I wanted to have more freedom to do it when it suited me. I also wanted to get away from the office politics and could not see a partnership career path being comfortable for me in the future. The independence to have more control over clients, hours and fees also appealed to me. I had enough experience to know the type of clients I wanted to work with, and the confidence to pitch the fees at the right price.
Did the prospect of being self-employed scare you and if so, how did you overcome that fear?
Yes, it did. I had always relied on a salary and the thought of that regular monthly payment disappearing was of course daunting. I did a lot of planning in advance, especially business planning with existing clients and referrers. This helped me to create a solid pipeline and ensured that when I was ready to start consultancy I had enough in the pipeline to start working straightaway.
How long did it take from considering a consultancy role to actually becoming a consultant solicitor?
I had always wanted to go into consultancy and had planned to do it over several years. However, in practice it took 6 weeks (including some time off).
What was the most daunting moment at the start of your consultancy and how did you overcome it?
The hardest and scariest thing was trying to get work through the door. I think that has got to be the most daunting thought for anyone moving from an employed role to a self-employed one. However good planning and trust in my referrer network meant I overcame it quickly. Understanding that it takes time to build up and having confidence also helped.
How long did it take to find your feet as a consultant solicitor, & what made you realise you had?
Financially and workload-wise it took over a year, which is normal in most businesses. I felt comfortable within a number of weeks though. Good feedback from clients and bills quickly being paid helped, as did turning down work from clients who I did not want to engage with.
How does consultancy differ from your previous role in private practice?
It differs hugely. Most notably the freedom, which is still the biggest positive for me now. There are also no office politics to get dragged into, no endless meetings or barrage of internal emails. In fact, now we have one enjoyable team meeting over lunch every quarter. All our communication is efficient, useful, and supportive. A further difference is the control over my future. No one can dictate how it will evolve other than me. I can shape my career exactly to how I want.
What are the best and worst things about being a consultant solicitor?
That’s easy, the best bit is the work life balance. I can’t tell you how much happier and more relaxed my home and family life are.
The worst thing was learning to get used to working without the same level of support I was used to, and working from home. This has been overcome though, and relatively quickly. The team at Cognitive Law are incredibly supportive and we do have a head office in Brighton which we can still work from as and when we like, so there is still an office to pop into and friendly faces to chat to if I want a change of scenery from home.
If you could start your consultancy journey again, what if anything would you do differently?
Even more preparation – precedents, Business Development, and a working from home plan/routine.
What one piece of advice would you give any solicitor considering becoming a consultant?
Have a robust plan and run this past trusted friends and family. Speak to some of the Cognitive lawyers and talk through your plan with them. Ask for ideas and advice on anything else to plan for. Lastly, have a number of months income to hand whilst your business builds.
And finally, sum up life as a consultant solicitor in 3 words!
Fun, happy, freedom