Nigel what an amazing journey you’ve had in Law both in the UK and internationally. Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I trained and qualified in 1997 at a great London city firm called Wilde Sapte, that within 12 months of me qualifying had tried and failed to merge with (then) accountancy giant Arthur Andersen and then merged with fellow UK firm Denton Hall (now Dentons, the largest law firm in the world). Wilde Sapte specialised in finance so naturally I started life as a banking lawyer but we were overexposed to key client NatWest Bank and when that was taken over by the Royal Bank of Scotland (who Linklaters was close to) our major income stream was under threat. Merging to de-risk became the obvious option for our owners/partners. I still see that in the traditional law firm market today – too much fear, too little risk taking.
I was close to some great Wilde Sapte partners but once we merged, they were targeted by magic circle head-hunters and it left me with some career decisions to make; much earlier than I or most lawyers would expect. In 2000, I chose to return to Sydney, Australia where my family had lived for some of my teenage years – the finance landscape there was developing rapidly as private equity and other funds entered the market and they were desperate for lawyers who had any sort of experience. It was good timing for me as leveraged finance was my thing and I was very lucky to be able to join Minter Ellison, Australia’s largest law firm.
I loved Australia and I loved Minters. The outdoor life alongside the buzz of doing the best finance deals in the Asia Pacific market was great but I came home to the UK for love as my now wife was back in London as a teacher for the deaf. Minters supported my move back to England and they encouraged me to stay with them and help them develop business from the London, US and European markets. It was then that I fell in love with sales, marketing and business building. My clients became Magic Circle and Wall Street law firms needing support for their clients in Asia and I started to develop a geeky interest in the business of law and the global legal market. I was very fortunate to become an equity partner of Minter Ellison and work for them in Sydney, London, Beijing and Hong Kong.
But I started to develop an entrepreneurial itch that I needed to scratch…
When you came back to the UK, what was the motivation to launch peregrine law?
During my career as a ‘big law firm’ partner, I had developed a passion for winning clients, building business lines and the legal market. I had become curious about how lawyers around the globe serviced their clients and I became convinced that law as a business needed to modernise, for the benefit of its customers and its lawyers.
So, you have merged your business with nexa law. Can you tell us a bit about nexa law?
I’ve been quoted in the media as saying that nexa law represents ‘the best of the future of legal services’ and I really believe that. I am very proud of the Peregrine brand that Ben Walmsley and I built in London but I’m impatient and very ambitious and I wanted to accelerate the growth path that we were on. nexa’s investors and management shared our vision and our belief that law firms in the UK needed to offer a better service to certain clients and lawyers in the mainstream legal market and that together we could build a leading UK brand to deliver this. nexa’s brains trust and investor group includes entrepreneurs who have successfully scaled other professional services companies and identified the need for this in law. I’m not saying we are law’s Apple, Uber or Purple Bricks but I think together we can deliver an amazing product for our clients and provide a brilliant platform for our fantastic lawyers to work from.
For solicitors in the Midlands and in London, what would life be like working for nexa law?
We are looking to attract English lawyers wherever in the UK or the world, they may want to work from but given we were founded in the Midlands and then made our first acquisition in London, they are natural hunting grounds for us. We offer our lawyers the ‘three Cs’ – Choice, Culture and Commercials. That is, Choice = our lawyers can choose where they work, when they work and who they work for (harnessing the best technology to service their favourite clients); Culture = our operations team are led by ex-lawyers who give our legal team the best support they could wish for and in return we ask our lawyers to look out for, to respect and to support each other (collaboration, collegiality and community are key for us); Commercials = we believe our fee splits and other financial incentives for our lawyers are the ‘best in breed’ for models like ours in the market (while giving our lawyers the ability to provide the best value pricing for their clients).
Do you see an increasing trend in the UK legal profession for alternative model law firms?
The market for law/legal services is now evolving faster than ever before, and it’s about time. It’s the ‘second oldest profession’ and it’s been slow in modernising both for its clients and for its market participants, its lawyers. Clients now have a much better menu of legal service providers to choose from and there are many more career options for people who want to advise on the rule of law. The career for a lawyer used to be very linear: lots of academic study, then pupil to barrister or trainee to associate solicitor to partner. That’s history now and for the better. New models set up every week and I’m really pleased that the UK is at the forefront of this, supported not just by its major players but by its regulators and courts too. Modern technology of course makes this possible too and thankfully the legal market is embracing this rather than fearing it.
So, we are in such a cool office environment, the largest co-working space in the world. We have a skateboard ramp and a set of decks in reception, the latest technology and atmosphere more attached to the Shoreditch bar scene. What’s it like running a law firm in such a funky “WeWork” space.
I’m 47 years old and I embarrass my kids at every opportunity and not just with my dancing. I’m certainly not ‘funky’ but I love the fact that we, as a law firm, are thriving in working in a WeWork office in the heart of the greatest city in the world. I’ve seen a few raised eyebrows from my fellow old school lawyers, but it’s doesn’t take long for them to get it. The world is changing, the way we work is changing and our clients’ expectations are changing. The way people buy products and use services in 2020 is completely different to what it was 10, 20 and certainly 50 years ago, why should law be any different. Embrace it, don’t fear it. We are. nexa Law, the future of legal services.