Last month Jason Nottage, Director at Origin Legal took time out to take a summer lunch with new EMW Law Managing Partner James Geary. Under the gaze of St Pauls Cathedral from the roof terrace at Madison, Jason and James discuss his new appointment, the latest happenings at EMW Law and the current legal market.
Congratulations James on your appointment of Managing Partner at EMW Law. Having started with the firm as a trainee in 2000, what does it mean for you to be leading the firm?
Thanks Jason! Yes, as you say, I started at EMW as a trainee in 2000, and aside from a handful of years working as general counsel at an environmental services business, have spent my entire legal career at EMW. Did I ever envisage being managing partner? No. But, particularly in recent months, I realised that I had an outline of a plan that I could build on and we could all deliver at EMW that would build on 3 decades of success but also take EMW on the next stage of its journey into the 2020s and beyond. My fellow partners clearly shared that confidence, and I was hugely flattered to be elected into role in May this year. The rest, as they say, is history.
Like all new football managers, the question is always asked what are some of your plans for the first 12 months?
EMW is an extremely strong business with fantastic clients and a brilliant team. Great foundations to build on. So the next 12 months should be seen as an evolutionary period rather than revolutionary. We are currently finalising an exciting and ambitious growth strategy. What I can say at this stage is that this strategy will comprise organic growth as well as growth from an aggressive acquisition plan, both of which will see us add even more strength and breadth to the services that we provide. We will be adopting new technology to make it easier for our lawyers to deliver the best advice that they can to our clients – both in terms of internal software platforms but also ensuring that they have the appropriate tools to capitalise on the advent of AI. But above all, living and breathing EMW culture is hugely important to me – it is said, as a compliment, that you can easily spot the EMW person in a room of lawyers – and I am keen that this isn’t diluted as we embrace how people are working in the 2020s. EMW can’t be the success that it is without us attracting and retaining the very best talent out there to join us on the next stage of our journey, and getting the culture right plays a major part in that.
Moving on to EMW Law, recently the firm has been successful in getting B Corp UK certified. What does this mean for the firm and more importantly for clients?
I’m thrilled to see EMW become B Corp Certified. It’s a huge achievement and we’re all very proud. When our Chair, Nick Lloyd, first made us all aware of B Corp, its entire ethos struck us as being incredibly powerful and also something that EMW was already massively aligned with. EMW has never been driven solely by profit, instead taking a stakeholder-focused approach which has played a major role in the strategic direction of the business, the work that we do and the impressive, loyal client base we have been able to build. While we look after the bottom line, like any successful firm, we have always understood the importance of being a force for good, appreciating the role that businesses play in creating positive change. B Corp will help ensure that the firm succeeds in creating a positive legacy.
EMW Law have also moved into exciting new London offices, can you tell us what they are like and why the move from Chancery lane?
Our lease was coming to an end in Chancery Lane. Rather than renew the lease, we reflected and realised that, as nice a space as that office was, it lacked that “something” that our offices in Gatwick and Milton Keynes offered. In Gatwick, we created a space in 2018 that focussed on collaboration and flexible working, and when we refitted our Milton Keynes office in early 2021, we sought to do the same. We started looking for office space that offered everyone something a little bit different, something that didn’t look or feel like a law firm. One Bedford Row ticked that box for us. It gives a mix of traditional working areas and a variety of spaces that lend themselves to both more and less formal collaborative working. And there’s a free bar…. Bedford Row also ticked the box for convenience that was offered by Chancery Lane. With a regular flow of people between our 3 offices, it’s important that our office is easily accessible from Euston, Victoria and City ThamesLink, and is also at the centre of a business hub.
EMW has taken a bold decision to move away from the traditional Legal 500 and Chambers ratings. Can you explain the thinking behind that?
Last year, I carried out an extensive client listening project, which involved me speaking to a large cross section of our client base (from the smallest one man bands to the largest multinationals) to understand how they found the client experience with EMW, warts and all. Fortunately, and not surprisingly, the warts weren’t there. One question I asked was the extent to which they would look legal directories if they were looking to source new legal providers. The response was unanimous – they don’t! Having spent a number of years in-house, this came as no surprise. If I was looking for a lawyer then, I’d go to my network (professional and/or personal) and ask for a recommendation. Our clients were telling me that they’d do the same. We reflected on this as a business, and then considered the amount of time that goes into preparing the directory submissions, whether we ever got any work on the back of our submissions, and that any real exposure we got came once a year when the directories were published. We concluded that our time was better spent first and foremost actually delivering what our clients are paying for, and that we were already, with our social media campaign, more than matching the publicity that we gained from the directories, and throughout the year too. So we made the decision to move away as we believe that this is the right decision for our clients and for our business.
Since the opening in April 2018, EMW law continues to grow its Gatwick office. Can you tell us a little bit about the story so far and the plans for this office?
We opened the office in 2018 with a view of replicating the success of our Milton Keynes presence. Gatwick is far enough out of London to have its own business community, which was the case with Milton Keynes. There was space in the market for a new entrant. And it is well placed to tap into the huge number of opportunities available between the office and London. And that strategy has paid off. Gatwick has been a huge success for us. From humble beginnings, Gatwick offers the full suite of EMW services, from South London all the way to Brighton and the surrounding towns on the South Coast. It has huge potential for growth in what is a market with a plethora of untapped opportunities, and it is on this that we are focussed.
In addition, it is also geographically close to STax, a capital allowances consultancy in Brighton that we acquired in early 2020 as part of our strategy to diversify beyond the provision of legal services alone.
Looking at the legal market in general. What do you see are some of the challenges facing law firms over the next few years?
Recruitment – recruiting quality people remains a challenge, especially as more law firms move away from the traditional model of expecting all people to be at their desks in the office every day, meaning that one of things that has historically differentiated us has been lost to an extent.
Technology – embracing technology in such a way that our regulators and insurers are comfortable, and that allows our lawyers to focus on delivering quality, bespoke, commercially-focussed solutions to our clients.
Economy – the last few years haven’t been without their challenges, and the next few aren’t going to be an easy ride either, I suspect. We need to future proof our businesses so that they can weather whatever storm comes next.
In all honesty, whilst these things are all challenges, I also view them as opportunities, and we need to, and will, embrace them. In this way, we will continue to make EMW positively stand out from the crowd, and help us attract the best talent and clients that are out there.
And finally…… James, you have always been a very visible figure in business life around Northampton and Milton Keynes. Alongside your new role, and the time spent out and about in the business community will you still be able to make time to be so active on the road bike?
This year has been a challenge on the cycling front. Free time has been limited as I transitioned into my new role, and injuries (firstly knee problems and more recently a small bike crash leaving me with cracked ribs) have meant that I haven’t spent the time on the bike that I’d like to. Finding the time to get fresh air and recharge on the endorphins that exercise gives me is hugely important to my mental and physical wellbeing. As soon as I can get back out, I’ll be there. Are you going to join me, Jason?