Earlier this week we sat down with Matt Bolton. Matt is a corporate lawyer at Knights plc based in their Leicester office. Despite being relatively fresh in PQE terms, Matt is already enjoying plenty of success in the East Midlands deals market and has developed particular specialisms in private equity and complex M&A work.
Matt tell us about your background before law?
Although I did a law degree at uni, even when I was about to graduate, I still really had no idea what I wanted to do in life. I was pretty settled at uni, so I decided to stay on and do the LPC straight after my degree. The LPC gave me a better steer that law was perhaps a potential career for me. Even so, I’d never really committed myself to applying for training contracts, so when I finished the LPC I needed a job I could move straight into. I ended up taking a job in the food sector. I stayed there for a few years across a couple of companies and had a great job trading in large quantities of food between major manufacturers and discount retailers. I developed some key skills, great contacts and really good commercial knowledge - all of which continue to serve me really well as a lawyer.
What was your route into law?
My last job in the food industry was quite close to home in Leicestershire. I was conscious that I’d made a big financial commitment by doing the LPC and the clock was ticking on it expiring. I sent off a few speculative applications to local firms and a couple came back with offers. Firms are definitely more interested when you’ve got a background in another sector. I chose Bray & Bray, a local firm with a particularly strong corporate practice and spent the majority of my time there with two brilliant corporate partners who invested a lot of time in me and involved me in some great deals. I got a taste for it and here I am. One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made was to leave Bray & Bray at the end of my training contract, but I wanted to work in the place I’d get to work on the biggest deals locally and it became apparent that place was Spearing Waite.
You moved to Spearing Waite in 2017 and that was when we first met - tell us a bit about your move.
I really wanted to challenge myself and get myself in a position to work on some bigger and more complex corporate deals. You and I spoke at length about the various options around - Nottingham, Birmingham and other firms in Leicester. It soon become pretty clear that I didn’t want to (or have to) up sticks and upset the apple-cart at home to achieve that. You introduced me to Spearing Waite and I was sold very quickly. It was a local firm with national reach. The national firms didn’t impress me - they were dysfunctional, took ages to act and some of the interviews felt like a little bit of a waste of time. Spearing Waite were a brilliant fit for me and that was immediately apparent on meeting a couple of the corporate partners for a chat. My first day as a solicitor was my first day here and it was the best move I’ve ever made.
Spearing Waite was acquired by Knights plc in October 2018. Tell us what it was like to be bought by Knights.
When you’re bought, it obviously affects different people in different positions in different ways. You need to remain mindful of that at all times but also make sure you’re set up to take advantage of any opportunities that come your way - whether that’s an opportunity to work with another office on a deal elsewhere, to get out and speak to clients or intermediaries about the acquisition or to steal a march and look to progress.
I’d always thought I might need to move on to a regional firm from Spearing Waite to work on the top tier of regional deals, but when Knights bought us, that regional firm had just arrived at my door. So I was pretty chuffed and could see a lot of upside personally, but you also have to be completely mindful that not all others around you are having the same experience. It was a difficult period for everyone, but it was worth bearing with it to get to where we are now.
And you’re coming up to 18 months with Knights now. How are you finding it?
I really like it here. We’re not a law firm - that’s something people often struggle with - we’re a business, first and foremost, providing legal services. We have a corporate structure and everyone here is very commercially minded and operates on a level. The partners here aren’t trying to own, manage and earn fees doing the legal work at the same time and younger lawyers get loads of support. It’s a really happy place to work because everybody is doing what they’re good at and is given the resources and backing to do it. Our clients really get our model and they’re the ones who benefit from it the most. When I was looking at law firms in the early days, the in-fighting and the antiquity were big turn offs for me and I didn’t understand why the sector was so stuck in its, often quite pointless, ways - so Knights has been great so far. The quality of work is excellent and we’re a fantastic team. We’re constantly growing too which kicks off loads of interesting opportunities.
Great stuff. And finally, any advice you’d give to young lawyers out there looking at firms?
Yes definitely. Choose a place to work based on a culture and working environment that’s the right fit for you. Spend some time researching - you can find out loads on the internet. Once you’ve found that, get your head down and work hard. Pick the best bits of the people around you and aim to reflect those qualities in yourself. Always revisit your mindset and your approach to your work. Make sure you’re always in the best position to maximise any opportunities that come your way. Be organised. Never accept second best and keep pushing to get to the front of the queue. Just because you’re only X years PQE, it’s no excuse for not being at the top of your game.
Jason Nottage advised Matt on his NQ move to Knights plc (which was Spearing Waite at the time).