Career choice: Founder and managing partner

Adam MoralleName: Adam Moralle 
Level of PQE: 15 years
Current position and immediate former position: Founder and managing partner of Brandsmiths. Formerly IP partner and head of sports group, Mishcon de Reya; solicitor at Nicholson Graham & Jones (now K&L Gates).

What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?

I set out to be a lawyer because I liked legal dramas and it seemed interesting. That's how I answered the question 'why do you want to be a lawyer?' in my first training contract interview. I didn't get the job! 

I moved from a City firm to a West End outfit because I wanted to concentrate on sports and intellectual property. I managed to specialise in that, and focus on the practice areas in detail.

I then found that the structure of the firm and the environment I was working in became more and more important to me. I tried to make changes but ultimately realised that if I wanted to create a certain place, with certain rules, I would have to do it myself.

What steps did you take to make that move a reality?

The biggest obstacle to setting up a new business is the length of time it takes to get a licence from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

In order to move quickly enough to keep your clients while also complying with your obligations not to take steps to set up while still at your current firm, you need an interim solution. Thankfully, I found someone who was willing, for a few months, to let me trade under their licence with my new team.

Technology also made life much easier. Years ago, you would have had to make a big investment in technology to have good billing and document management systems. Now, for smaller firms, cloud-based technology makes that more easily achievable.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

It was difficult and challenging. I underestimated how much effort it would take to actually run the business. I assumed it would be a greater workload than running a team at my previous firm, but didn't realise how much greater.

All those things you take for granted at a big firm you have to do yourself or get others (who you want to earn fees) to do. It's a really big workload.

What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?

Everyone from my family to clients and everyone working with me offered support. You need people to do you favours and help you out. I also received a lot of help from other people who had started their own firms, which was invaluable.

How did you find the transition after you made the move?

The transition was pretty natural. If you already have experience of running a small team in a law firm, then the step up to managing your own firm is a natural one, providing you can manage the other day-to-day aspects of running a business.

It takes up a lot of time, but you have to want the challenge. You have to have a reason and be focused on the long term, as well as on the increase in day-to-day enjoyment – otherwise, the immediate monetary/work pay-off (similar or less money for much more work) doesn't seem to make much sense.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

The freedom to make decisions  every day that shape the business. As a partner in a bigger firm, you realise early on that you have little to no say in its running. Shaping a business, trying things out, seeing what works - and what doesn't - is a real privilege.

What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?

You have to just focus from day to day. If you start to worry about whether you'll make this month's money, or next month's money, you'll get paralysed. You need to believe that the project is a good one, and that your clients and staff will support you. 

If I did it again, I would invest more  in administrative staff at an earlier stage. I think that would have really benefitted the firm and taken pressure off some fee-earners who were effectively working two jobs.

What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?

  • Be honest with yourself. If you don’t believe in the people around you or the direction of your current firm, question why you are there and what else you can do. Maybe you need the money, but question that need
  • Be ambitious. Many lawyers only operate at 50% of their potential. The work can be repetitive, and by six or seven years' qualified, you may have mastered it. You then face circling for some time while you try to work out the politics of landing as a partner, which ultimately isn’t for everyone. Most lawyers would make great business owners and have lots to give. Working where you can’t deploy that potential will be frustrating. So if you are looking for a new job, aim high
  • Day-to-day enjoyment is way more important than anything else. Having a five-year plan to make enough money to achieve a goal is great, but what about the five years of misery you spent getting there? Each day is important and you never get it back – value that, and do something you really enjoy

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