Paul Osborne’s lessons in how to run (or not to run) a law firm were learnt early. Having spent five years as an associate at Oppenheimers, then a big City law firm, he saw it disintegrate after its lease came to an end. The rump of the firm merged with Denton Hall. After six months Paul was faced with a choice: take the ‘easy’ option of the partnership offer he had received from Denton Hall or start from scratch with five colleagues including the named partners Fox and Williams.
“It was a huge fork in the road. Should I take partnership? Or be part of starting a new firm?” he says. “That was March 1989 and it was the starting point for my future career in management.”
He admits now that the exuberance of youth helped his decision-making, but today he has no regrets. He was single at the time and considered it a great opportunity to be master of his own destiny.
It was all pre-email. He was in the middle of a lot of deals and the six-strong team that left Denton Hall were directed out of the building within 24 hours of notice being served. “The next morning, I thought ‘what have I done?!’ I had at least expected to work my notice,” he says.
Paul proved good at generating business and good with clients. The new team had plenty of energy and a belief that it could work. The newly created Fox Williams took offices at City Gate House in Finsbury Square and subsequently at Dominion Street. Paul was Head of Corporate, the largest department in the period to 2013.
Ultimately, there was movement at the top, Paul became the new Senior Partner and so began a growth phase. Fox Williams moved to new premises in 2015 and has doubled in size since mid-2013. Today, the firm has more than 90 fee earners, including 34 partners, with revenues of around £28 million.
The biggest challenges have not always been legal ones. Paul says: “One of the most business critical issues faced by the firm was our Dominion Street lease coming to an end in 2015 and finding new space that would provide the right platform for growth for the next 15 years. We moved to fabulous newly built, environmentally friendly premises at 10 Finsbury Square, overlooking the Honourable Artillery Company. Clients and staff love the building and it brought a new energy to the business.”
The move was a catalyst for getting everyone moving in the same direction. Paul says he wanted to ensure that people could “grow” and the firm could support their aspirations: “Getting the strategy right is so important. It is all about values and living the values. This is the prism through which we view everything.”
He adds: “If a law firm is to thrive it needs a clear strategy and alignment with everyone pulling in the same direction. For us, we have targeted International work and a small number of sector niches which we are developing with a good measure of success.”
He is passionate about open communication, integrity and great client service. One of Paul’s first tasks was to re-engineer the group’s compensation culture with the help of Smith & Williamson. The objective was to recognise and reward a much wider range of key partner behaviours such as collaboration, teamwork and relationship building as well as client introductions and billings.
The group’s specialisms include financial services regulation, fintech and business investigations. The firm recruited from the FCA and specialist law firms, building teams around key individuals. Today, Paul believes they can match anyone in the City in their niche sectors.
“I believe you need to decide who you are and what you want to be. We’re a single office, City-based specialist firm. We have a foundation of excellence and seek to work in specialist areas. One of my objectives was to ensure Fox Williams becomes a second-generation law firm. With the support of amazing colleagues that goal has been achieved.”
His advice to those contemplating management? Don’t be afraid of training: “Go on management training courses,” he says. “It’s a big step-up and it’s really helpful. Equally, I always like to spend time with colleagues on one-to-one lunches and breakfasts. That is where you can really understand their view of the world."
“Also, you need to be decisive. The firm wants leadership. When the Brexit vote happened, the firm needed clear direction and reassurance. But also, don’t take yourself too seriously – retaining a sense of humour goes a long way.”
By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.
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