John Newell is a litigator who recently successfully represented former England manager Kevin Keegan in a hacking claim against Mirror Group Newspapers. He joined Setfords from City firm Herbert Reeves & Co where he headed up the Dispute Resolution department. John lives in Bucks.
How does your day begin?It completely varies. I’m usually up early and try to get some exercise in before work and lately that might mean being down on the water as I am doing a sculling course at Marlow. I used to see people going up and down and thought that looked nice, but learning was never really an option because I had a minimum 90-minute commute into my office in the City. On a bad day it could have been two hours each way. But now I am a consultant at Setfords it has given me a lot more time to do what I want to do and I only travel into London now as and when required. Gaining back that three or four hours a day I used to spend commuting has made a huge difference to my quality of life.
It was the freedom, in a nutshell.
What prompted you to become a consultant?It was the freedom, in a nutshell. I travel quite a lot. I have two sons who live in Sweden and I’m back and forth a lot to see them and I wanted greater flexibility to catch a flight when I wanted to and not to be made to feel guilty about spending time with my sons. The attraction of being a consultant was being able to do my work when and where it suited me. I’m quite into my motorcycling and yesterday I did a track day. You can’t just head off to do something like that on a Tuesday when you are working for someone else.
Has consultancy been what you expected?Initially it was a steep learning curve. Getting up to speed with the IT system took some time. I came from an old-school firm so we didn’t have a lot of IT support. Learning the Setfords’ system was a bit of a challenge, but I am very comfortable with it now. It is definitely a cultural shift; moving from travelling into London every day and being in a busy environment in the city surrounded by loads of people, to getting up in the morning and being at work in your home and it being peaceful and quiet all around you.
It has given me a lot more time to do what I want to do
Can working on your own be challenging?Yes, you have to be prepared for that. Quite often in a firm where you have colleagues around you, you can bounce ideas off people if you have a legal or procedural query. Working as a consultant it can definitely still be done but it takes a bit more effort – dropping an email to everyone or picking up the phone. After a while you do get used to working on your own and develop greater confidence in and reliance upon your own abilities, but it can take a bit of time. I break things up by going out for a blast on the bike, doing some exercise or going for coffee with friends.
How did your clients react when you left a traditional firm?No one batted an eyelid to be honest with you. I think it’s more about the relationship you have with your clients. If they like how you operate they don’t mind where you are. I didn’t lose any clients when I became a consultant. Kevin Keegan is a good example.
...being able to manage my life and my free time as I choose.
You recently handled Mr Keegan’s hacking case against Mirror Group Newspapers. What is it like handling high profile or challenging cases as a consultant?I was pleased with how the hacking case went. Initially there was a lot of work involved in preparing the case but in the end it wasn’t particularly hard fought by the other side – it was more about achieving the right remedies and an appropriate level of compensation. I’ve had numerous other pieces of litigation, whilst a consultant, that have required a lot of work and that have been robustly contested. But in all cases, whilst it is undoubtedly hard work doing most of the work on your own, it has been manageable. I have had everything I need to do the job and if I’ve needed any support it has been forthcoming.
How does your day end?It completely varies. The bulk of my work is contentious dispute resolution. As anyone doing contentious work knows, at times you are flat out working around the clock to meet a deadline and at other times things are a little slower. I tend to have deadlines I work towards, and in the build-up to a Hearing I can be working until the early hours, but then I might take a week off. I will do the work when it’s required. Otherwise I please myself. That has been the great benefit of being a consultant – being able to manage my life and my free time as I choose.