CategoriesBusiness

My business journey

A wonderful lawyer business coach – Ann Page – helped me in my early years of my law firm. Ann interviewed me for her new book Business Skills? Don’t be daft I am a lawyer. Due to illness, I was unable to attend the book launch. What follows is my speech, which was kindly read out by my colleague.

Since Ann conducted her interviews, I have tried some psychotherapy. Everyone should. Trawling through my past, it’s easy to see where TL came from.

My parents ran businesses, in fact, my dad at 77 still runs a business. They discussed business at the table. These things just soak in. I guess what soaked in most of all was that it was “normal” to work for yourself.

My first business was aged 9, selling coke cans at school. I would go to the wholesalers with my folks. Borrow the money for a crate of cans, then sell the cans at school during the summer.

The second business was washing cars, which was much harder work.

I didn’t much enjoy school, and despised law school so much so that I asked for my money back. I don’t go out of the way to break the rules, but I really didn’t like following others’ rules.

My interest in politics, particularly left-wing politics, developed on my degree, killed my business instinct. Left-wingers simply didn’t discuss business, even ethical business.

Fast forward to 2007, I qualified and took a job at Ford and Warren, now Weightmans. I hated it. Before I was 1 year PQE, I got my dream job at Thompsons – which was very left-wing trade union law firm. So left-wing was I that I was the elected as the trade union rep for the lawyers – and I organised a strike!

After a few years, I became incredibly disillusioned, because the firm which was meant to look after the working person became hypocritical. The nail in the coffin was when my second child was born, my firm wouldn’t let me take the two weeks of paternity leave over two periods! I’m still narked about that.

So with two kids under two, my wife on mat leave, I resigned. It was a toss-up between being a stay-at-home dad, or setting up my firm. I’m glad I set-up, as my children wouldn’t have made it their second birthdays!

My business plan was on one page, and like any business plans, they don’t survive their first meeting with a customer. I costed that the firm would cost 30k in year. Doing predominantly No Win, No Fee personal injury work, I knew that cashflow was going to be my biggest headache.

A funny story is that, when costing our family’s outgoings for year one, I came to the conclusion that if we made some savings, that we could get by. I genuinely broke down in tears – and I’m not a crier – when I realised that I forgot to take the mortgage payments into account.

I borrowed 30k from my folks. I still owe 10k!

In terms of bringing work in, although I am not “techy” I realised that there was very little content online about “assaults at work” – an area of personal injury law that I had specialised in.

My first day at work was 30 April 2012, but I wasn’t allowed by the SRA to practice until 15 August 2012. It’s weird starting a firm, because you start with no legal work! But I was busy – very busy – writing content, policies, etc. During this time, I went on Ann’s management course.

Work came from all sorts of areas. Other lawyers. People in the virtual office. A friend of a friend. The very odd thing about running a law firm is that, before you went solo, friends and family wouldn’t ask you a question or send you a case. When I was alone – without any structure or supervision – then people send you all sorts.

A wonderful lawyer and person, Angela Davies, invited me a BNI networking event. I remember that 6am start more than any other event over the years. The penny dropped for me. I felt like Neo in the Matrix. Harrogate is full of networks – and that’s how most of the work is won.

Networking taught me business: learning and listening to others. Watching businesses succeed and fail. Teaching you how to spot a charlatan. Teaching you how to give an elevator pitch.

Year one I made a loss, and of course was down the 40k salary I was on in Leeds. Year two, Georgina Parkin came along as our first trainee solicitor, because I was rammed with work and she had had the good sense to send lots of letters demanding a training contract. Georgina earned more than I did for the first few years. That’s something they don’t tell you. You borrow money to put in, then make a loss, but pay your staff AND lose the salary that you would have had in your old job.

My ingrained, innate plan was always to hire staff and to hire brilliant staff. I was always worried about going under a bus and leaving my clients high and dry. As I had rough health as a kid, I also knew that I needed a decent-sized team because I was going to be ill at some point – and sure enough that has happened.

Podcasts have honed by business acumen, particularly podcasts emanating from the US. I now run three podcasts. Our brand and website was inspired by a US marketing legend called Seth Godin. He came up with the Purple Cow theory of marketing. Truth Legal was a purple cow. It had to stand out online, particularly in a world of some dodgy “have you had a claim in the last three years” cowboys.

As a Quaker, I was inspired by some of the Quaker business legends of the past: Rowntrees, Cadburys, Lloyds, Barclays, Waterhouse, Clarks etc etc. Studying what they did, they treated their people well, their customers trusted them, and as a result their businesses flourished. Those Quakers were, I would argue, some of the first ethical business leaders. I’ve tried to follow their principles.

I would finish with a few points I’d like to make:

  1. Luck is a massive factor in any success. For me, the largest PI firm in the area was shut down by the SRA into our second year..
  2. As you grow, give people the work that they thrive at. We now have people who are far superior at their jobs than I now am at those jobs. I think a business owner should do themselves out of a job.
  3. Law firms have historically had massive profit margins and law firm owners have been historically super greedy. It doesn’t need to be that way. Businesses like Aldi survive on a 1% profit margin.
  4. Do we need business skills? Yes, as most of us don’t have any, but the good news is that we lawyers are good at learning and so we can learn new skills. The challenge is to de-programme ourselves from our business ignorance that our educational establishments, particularly law school, have bequeathed us with.
  5. A hard part for a lawyer business person is having to make decisions with imperfect information, quite the opposite as to how we advise our clients.
  6. Finally, lawyers have been under attack for a decade now. Legal Aid has been all but killed. Advice centres have been hammered. Miscarriages of justice are rife. Employment Tribunal fees were adjudged to be unlawful, just like the prorogation. The changes to the personal injury world, coming soon, are an affront to the rule of law, and just wait for the politicisation of the judiciary. Us lawyers need to stick together. We have huge constitutional importance and we should never forget that.
CategoriesThought of The Day

4 things that I’ve learned from a few nights’ stay, courtesy of Harrogate Hospital Urology Department

  • Men can – yes we can! – talk about delicate health matters, but we shouldn’t have to wait for hospitalisation until we do so.
  • It’s possible to lose a needle phobia.
  • I love the NHS more than I did, and I already adored it. We need to protect it and enhance it.
  • My wife was so stressed when packing my things that she put a pair of socks – rather than a flannel – in my wash bag to wash my face! The chaps in here laughed so loudly that their stitches nearly fell out.

I’m fine. Will be fine. No need to comment.

CategoriesPolitics

Corbyn, Trump and the Cult

Politically, Corbyn and Trump are of course diametrically opposite. (I backed Corbyn in the leadership election of 2015: I was swayed by his political history and the inevitable avalanche of support which would make the Labour Party a social movement again, financially strong, with hundreds of thousand of leaflet-deliverers and Facebook warriors.) But there is an unfortunate similarity between the two groups of followers, which requires discussion.

Until this recent leadership election, no labour leadership campaign in my lifetime was so personality-driven, so…. cultish. Like the relationship between Trump and his cult, who refuse to see his many flaws, for Corbyn’s arch-followers, he can do no wrong.

Sure, there are many Labour Party members who run logical arguments as to why Corbyn is the right person to lead the Labour Party – and I respect that, though I forcefully disagree. Alarmingly, however, there is a cohort of Corbyn followers who will support him like disciples – many of whom are new to politics, hanging onto to his every word. “If Jeremy loses the leadership, I shall leave the party”, they say. No great loss there. Corbyn has politicised these (misguided) people – and they will climb over broken glass to attend his rallies. These people will decide the fate of this country, and it makes me sad/mad.

Not only are there newbies to the Labour Party – who have never knocked on a door(but please do stay for the long-haul, if this is you) – who follow Corbyn in a lemmings-like way, but there are the armchair Ches, politically educated/brainwashed by radical communists, who spell the deepest trouble. I have evidence that many of these members would rather the Labour Party was pure in its pursuit of a socialist/communist utopia and lose the next general election, than have more moderate (and electable!) Labour Party and win the next general election because, they say, it is all part of a greater plan to convert the Labour Party into a revolution-leading vehicle. Ergo, some members would rather have the Tories in power than Labour. This is intellectually, morally and politically bankrupt thinking. Please leave. Now. You know who you are.

And what many of the Corbyn cult have missed is that Corbyn has won, even if Corybn loses to Smith. As compelling evidence, to woo the Labour electorate, Smith is trying to out-Corbyn, Corbyn. The Labour Party has, therefore, irrevocably changed for the better, in terms of its political direction and its membership: all Labour Party policy for the next decade will have a socialist tint for the first time in a generation.

The only question for the Labour Party membership is this: which potential leader is most likely to be the next Labour PM. The answer is not JC.

My money – if I gambled – is on Corbyn, because of his cult. As one member quipped: “The only hundreds and thousands at a Smith rally are on the ice creams.”

Andrew Gray is the owner of www.TruthLegal.com and www.tl-prawnik.co.uk and www.TheRichLawyer.life is writing in his personal capacity.

CategoriesPolitics

The Genius that is Capitalism

Like it or not, capitalism is genius. And all geniuses are flawed. In my favourite – though rarely-referenced – tranche of Marxism, Marx declares that, “Crime produces locks, jails, police, locksmiths, judges, lawyers, and jail keepers.” And, he goes on to say, crime produces the teachers to train the jailors, and the police, locksmiths, judges, and lawyers and so on. And, he says, crime creates those who produce the books for the jailors, police, locksmiths judges and lawyers. And so on.

Of course, KM’s point is that capitalism is always developing; and that even crime – the scourge of all societies – has value in a capitalist society.

To prove his point, in each disaster, in each war, people find a way to profit. Because, I think, the urge to compete with our neighbour is deep-rooted, forever part of our collective DNA.

Brash Boris Johnson put it succinctly in his Thatcher lecture in 2013 when he said: “I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

I hate this sentence to my core, and crave significant income redistribution, but I fear that Boris is right.

I am reminded of the current San Francisco thinking: To be successful we should surround ourselves with people more successful than we are; but to be happy, we should surround ourselves with people who are less successful.

In some ways, I marvel at humankind’s uncontrollable pursuit of money. It seems, well, human. But so is humankind’s lust for violence, and we can – and must – be better than that.

CategoriesThought of The Day

The Good Old Days

It seems to me that many folks hunger for the good old days, when life was – so some people argue – better, in every conceivable way.

Leaving aside the Brexit issues of xenophobia, economic illiteracy and the rejection of all expert opinion, we must challenge the notion that British life was better in the good old days: because in no strand of British life has the country deteriorated.

Take morality, for instance. During my lifetime, casual racism has gone from being pretty normal behaviour, to something only seen on the fringes. And take celebrities: today celebs – just like all of us – do some pretty stupid things, but the behaviour of today’s celebs has nothing on the likes of (Sir) Jimmy Saville and his ilk. Operation Yew Tree does not target newbie celebs, rather, its focus is on celebs from the good old days because so many of those celebs acted with impunity. In part, this is because people today are less deferential, ready to report on bad behaviour. This is progress.

Take graffiti: it has nearly been eradicated. Take littering: it has reduced immeasurably. Take violent crime: it is on the decrease. Take schools: no longer do teachers beat their pupils. Take stately homes: today many are owned by the National Trust, available to millions.

Societies progress each generation. This is because people spend much of their early lives ironing out their own flaws caused, to a large part, by their parents (“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad” wrote Larkin). And when these people become parents, they make a special effort not to make the mistakes that they and their parents made. As a result, each generation is an improvement on the one before.

In addition, today, nearly half of all students go to university, mixing with kids from all backgrounds, often studying for the sake of intellectual development. With degree subjects for most walks of life, it is inevitable that the people of today are smarter than the people of yesterday, as society’s collective knowledge improves everyday. To aid this progress, the teachers of today have been taught to a more advanced stage than the teachers of yesterday; in turn, they use more advanced teaching methods on their pupils. Society is better at paragraph two of this blog, than it was at paragraph one. And the pace of improvement is accelerating.

Thanks to the internet, today information is democratically devoured: it isn’t the preserve of the rich, and the children of the rich. Physically, the people of today are stronger, healthier and more aware of their health. No footballer from 1966 could get into today’s England team. Smokers are now regarded as weird, not cool.

In yesteryear, doctors could make grave mistakes (“never-ever events”) – like removing the wrong kidney – and could get away with it. Not today, so much. Back then, lawyers were often in the pub most of Friday, and most law firm partners were men. Not today, so much. Back then, men didn’t spend much time with their kids: not so today. Back then, men didn’t cook or clean. Not so much today.

It is true that life was simpler “back then”, but life was pretty crap, too. Next time you speak to someone who wants to turn back the clock, confront their lazy, pernicious thinking with facts. It will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Andrew Gray is the owner of www.TruthLegal.com and www.tl-prawnik.co.uk and www.TheRichLawyer.life is writing in his personal capacity.

CategoriesBusiness

My personal statement

I want to be the best person that I can be, using all my God-given and nurture-generated, attributes, whether I am at home or at work. At home, I want to be a dad who is around as much as possible (and available should an emergency present itself) as well as being able to financially provide in both the short and longterm.

I want justice. I want to give birth to a company. I want to control my destiny. To make a journey. To maintain the highest standard of integrity with all my inter-personal dealings. To stop manager-caused anxiety. I want to provide an outstanding, cheap and fast legal service to those who have been wronged.

I want to work smarter: to work close to home, in an area I adore, at a pace that I choose, when I want. I don’t crave vast riches; I just want to be rewarded fairly.

I want to work in relative quiet. I want to properly research legal issues. I want to write a book. I want to be able to mould future lawyers. I want to be part of a team in which all staff don’t mind coming to work; where the staff share in the success of the enterprise – be that with financial rewards or with other dividends such as good career development.

I want to be dynamic. To be creative. To improve my presentation and advocacy skills. To develop other skills. To grow as a human. To become more rounded.

I want to use the law firm for political ends, in terms of helping the needy or by raising my own standing so that I can help the needy from my privileged position.

Too often the little guy, who finds himself embroiled in a dispute, is either priced out of obtaining legal advice, pays for lawyers he can barely afford or has appointed lawyers, whom he didn’t properly choose.

CategoriesHarrogate

Local Tory-Imposed Austerity

Conservative Councillor Skidmore, of Ripon, celebrated our council’s 16.7 per cent drop in funding by telling our local paper:

“Everybody is feeling the same pain, perhaps some more than others, but we have got to put the sovereign debt issue to bed and the only way of doing that is to stop spending,” he said.

“It’s like if you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat – stop eating cream cakes.”

Such economically backward thinking is going to cause a crisis; such a poor analogy. If you want to lose some weight, how about you do some exercise? Similarly, if you want to stimulate the economy, so that more people are in employment and the tax take increases, do some spending.

The Tory lie that this country is like a household seems to resonate with the public. But when a household cuts it’s spending, it doesn’t have to think about the wider economy. But when a Government cuts spending the net effect is the depression of the economy. The Tories, arch-clingers-on to the past, are making the same mistakes that were made in the 1930s.

And what makes me particularly angry with the likes of Councillor Skidmore is that he implies that he doesn’t want to see a reduction in the council budget, but this is political raison d’être: to reduce, by any means possible, the effectiveness of the state.

So, no crocodile tears, councillor; the people will see straight through you in the end. You know that the cuts are ideological. This is what you came into politics for.

CategoriesPolitics

The Lords Resistance Army

Let me entertain you with an alcohol-caused, name-dropping anecdote. A few months ago, at the Labour Regional Conference in Leeds, at an hour well past Anne Widdecombe’s bedtime, I was at the bar next to Paul Routledge.

‘Mr Routledge,’ I said, ‘You should write an article about my CLP.’

‘Where’s that then?’ he said, curmudgeonly.

‘Harrogate and Knaresborough,’ I said, much too happily.

Mr Routledge sank his pint, wiped his mouth and said: ‘That shouldn’t take too long.’

Very funny. Not true, though. Let me return to this.

The other day, like every other Labour Party member, I received an email from a Lord: I hope that this never happens again. The Lord was, of course, Mandelson. That same day, I found that most of the billboards in my town of Harrogate had been bought by the Tories. To compound my misery, over the last few weeks, my wife and I have received innumerable Tory leaflets, all printed in Peterborough. My poor wife has even received direct mailings from the Queen’s relative, Cameron, and, what made her really cringe, was a letter from Mandelson’s holiday chum, Osbourne.

What is now clear is that, with the Tories chucking so much money at the election in my town, it’s highly likely that another Lord – Ashcroft – is bankrolling it. And if conclusive evidence was needed, last week, Ashcroft’s sponsor, 14-pint Hague, was up here, too. We’re becoming like a 19th Century rotten borough.

For those unfamiliar with my town, Harrogate is the home of the other BNP MEP and former leader of the National Front, Andrew Brons. Ours is a prosperous North Yorkshire spa town – with a spring so good that Marx came here in 1873 to ‘take the waters’; had he decided to make Harrogate home, Das Kapital would never have been written, but his kids wouldn’t have died so young.

Since 1997, our MP has been the begrudgingly popular Lib Dem, Phil Willis, who is standing down this time bequeathing a 7,000 majority to his aide. But why is Ashcroft targeting what looks like a safe Lib Dem seat? Because Harrogate is a bellwether: when we go blue – because we never go red – the country goes blue. Norman ‘high-unemployment-is-a-price-worth-paying’ Lamont, now-Lord, tried standing here. Lord Lamont lost in 1997, never to be seen again. This time’s Tory challenger is, like Cameron, a marketing executive, and leader of the mean Tory-run council.

But how can Ashcroft buy an election? Because Labour has its sponsors, too. Ever since Ecklestone’s cheque wasn’t cashed, New Labour has been obsessed with the super-rich. And with New Labour’s deliberate destruction of our base, we’ve had no choice but to hire ourselves out, with another Lord – Levy – charged with raising the dosh.

In the same way that, after 18 Tory years, the country reflected their malicious design, so, too, today, to a lesser degree, does this country reflect the New Labour project. After thirteen years of parliamentary carte blanche, we could have sorted out party funding to make sure that rich men can never buy an election for the Tories again; and it’s for this reason that my wrath is not directed at Ashcroft, but at New Labour. We could have stopped Ashcroft buying my town’s seat.

Somehow, those in the higher echelons of our party must have swallowed the Lib Dem’s manifesto lie that the trade union funding of Labour is comparable with that of Ashcroft. It isn’t. We should be proud that so many trade unionists choose to support Labour. The unions are our foundations; we become unstuck when we forget the origins of our movement.

Come on, we should have had a Labour Government bent on democratic reform. Let’s face it, Labour’s main expenses culprits and those recently ensnared by Channel 4 – Hewitt, Hoon and Byers – are all Blairites. And, lately, with safe seats up for grabs, the democratic mechanisms in our party have been trampled on by the top to ensure a shoe-in for a minister’s buddy – like Mandelson’s mate in Stoke. My party card states that we are ‘a democratic socialist party’. Not anymore.

What’s more, Labour’s high priest – Maddelson – an undeniably intelligent strategist, who once understood the media, hasn’t grasped that elections are popularity contests, and he isn’t popular in our party, let alone with the electorate. For political anoraks of the left, our bedroom walls should be plastered with posters of our political heroes of the day: they are not.

So, Mr Routledge, what is worth knowing about my CLP, is that our members have good politics, good judgement and we are resisting Lords, whatever their political affiliations.

I close with this, the Burmese people, who I am particularly fond of, have an apt expression for a time like this: Only your real friends tell you when your face is a dirty. Britain isn’t broken, but the Labour Party certainly is.

Andrew Gray is the Chair of Harrogate and Knaresborough CLP, and the views expressed here are his own.

CategoriesPolitics

Wikileaks

I find the recent Wikileaks saga most conflicting. The data dump will have the effect that diplomats will rarely write candidly for fear that their words will end up in The Guardian. Diplomats are the oil in the international system. It is impossible to know what damage, if any, has been done or will be done.

On the flip side, we should never forget the first Wikileaks release, Collateral Murder, available here. If you haven’t seen it, I can tell you that it is footage of the pilots of a US Apache helicopter executing civilians and journalists. When the US authorities were asked how two reporters had died, the US lied and then obfuscated. Thankfully, the footage was leaked and those who lost loved ones will know the truth: they were mown down by trigger-happy Americans in an illegal, immoral war.

Make your own mind up of the video: you should know what our combatants are doing in your name; the pornography of war should be seen. If you support the war, you should see the impact of your actions.

So, the Wikileaks releases has made it harder for our representatives to mislead, and who can be against that?