Matthew is a consultant lawyer at Setfords specialising in planning and other regulatory law. He lives in Stafford with his wife Jan who is also a planning lawyer, but works in a traditional firm. Matthew, who’s 60 years old, joined Setfords in 2012 after a career spent in local authorities and traditional law firms.
How does your day begin?I try to be at my desk by 9am. Jan is out the door by 8am as she has a 45-minute commute each way. My journey to work is 30 seconds because I work from home. I spend the morning trying to get through emails although it very much depends on what I’ve got on.
Why did you become a consultant?I was an associate in a firm that eventually fell victim to the recession. I started having conversations with larger, more conventional firms and they were saying you can come and join us, but you need to have your own following. And then I spoke to Setfords and the penny dropped: become a consultant and build your own following. I liked the ability to do exactly what I wanted to do. To make it exactly what I wanted to make of it. And to reap the benefits of my hard work.
Was consultancy what you expected?The first six months were a lot better than I thought they would be. My initial thought was: ahh, this is going to be tough. I’m going to have to really make the effort. But most of the people I had had as clients actually searched me out. And then I began to make myself known within Setfords which meant consultants began to pass work on to me when they had a client that needed my type of specialism. The firm also gets queries from people on spec – generated by the website and business development team – which brings me other clients, and I have picked up a number of cases I would never have dealt with normally. It has really widened my skill-set. Because of the way the fee-share is structured I personally now earn something like three-times more per job compared to what I did when I worked within a traditional firm.
The first six months were a lot better than I thought they would be
Did your age play a factor in your desire to be a consultant?If I were to apply now to a conventional law firm my age would be against me. Everyone knows that. But in a firm like Setfords it’s an enormous advantage. There’s not much I haven’t seen so I know how to handle cases. And most importantly I have the experience of getting clients and keeping clients. And that’s perfect for a consultant.
Do your clients care that you don’t work in a traditional firm?People are sometimes a bit curious how it works, but usually it’s a case of explaining the benefits. You won’t get someone better than me with 30 years’ experience for the price – prices I’m able to keep at a set level because I’m self employed and don’t have the overhead. You can get me anytime. I can work from anywhere. If you wanted me to come to your offices to work I could do that.
What’s been been the biggest benefit of being a consultant?My time is my own. I qualified as a pilot in 2003 and have a share in an aeroplane which I keep at a private airfield five miles from Stafford. And so if it’s a beautiful day and I want to spend the afternoon flying then that’s exactly what I will do, providing I can juggle my work. I sometimes fly to see clients. I can get down to the south coast within two hours whereas driving would be a nightmare. I frequently take that option. Some of the most wonderful times I have had are flying in the height of summer during the very long days – if it’s sunny and you are going up every bush throws a shadow that’s 200 yards long, every field is a painting.
I have the freedom to set my own agenda
What’s been the greatest challenge of being a consultant?It’s always been juggling the number of clients and making sure every one feels like they are the only client they’ve got. When I worked in local authorities I could say I’m too busy to do that. You never say that to your clients when you are a consultant. But I have made a conscious choice to have work-life balance. I’m 60 years old. To a certain degree the struggles of mortgages etc. are now behind me. I don’t want to work all hours so I structure my life and the number of clients accordingly.
What does your wife think of your lifestyle, considering she works in a traditional firm?When you are salaried in a traditional firm there is a pressure to perform and come up with a certain number of chargeable hours and what have you. And my wife often says to me that I couldn’t handle what she handles because my life is so different. I have the freedom to set my own agenda. I don’t feel I have to do everything and take on every job. So when clients come to me and I say yes, I’ll take on your job, I’m doing it because I want to.
How does your day end?Whatever happens dinner is at eight when my wife gets home. Jan has a working day that starts and stops. I work when I need to and when I want to. So I may relax for a couple of hours, but if there’s something urgent that needs doing I may go back upstairs to my study and finish off a few emails and do some admin until fairly late. That’s my choice. But I am in control. Jan says to me: you don’t know what it’s like working for The Man. And she’s right. I don’t really remember what that’s like. I’m very lucky.