Tom Flatau is Head of Real Estate at Setfords. At his last firm he was offered equity partnership – he turned it down to become a consultant.
How does your day begin?
I normally start around 8.30am. Often I am able to work from home, in which case I only have to walk downstairs to get started. Of course I am often up in London for meetings, but remote working offers such flexibility that heading into the capital isn’t always necessary.
What prompted you to become a consultant?
I wanted the same ability to work for great clients doing high-value work but without the pressure. When you work as a partner you do feel a great sense of responsibility – often your billing doesn’t just affect you but the firm as a whole. So every month you would get, “How much have you billed?” But working as a consultant there is none of that and I’ve got to say I’m much less stressed than I was. I also wanted more flexibility. It is a very demanding working day but you still have the ability to go and run an errand occasionally without feeling like you shouldn’t be doing that.
Was consultancy what you expected?
My partner, Jane Lockyer, is also a consultant, so I knew what to expect. I still work very hard but it is different from a traditional law firm. If you think when you join you are going to get referrals left, right and centre, don’t join. Being a consultant is for the proactive lawyer. You have to be self-reliant – find much of the work yourself and keep clients happy. If you lose the work you have no work. But if you are the type who is self-reliant, you can be very successful. It gives you the flexibility to earn a substantial amount but not to work all the time. The beauty of Setfords is that I have been able to put together a team of consultant lawyers to serve my clients, just as I would have done in a traditional firm: company/commercial, banking, construction, planning, employment, and even immigration.
I wanted the same ability to work for great clients doing high-value work but without the pressure.
Managing large-scale, high-fee deals means more than one lawyer involved, how does that work with the consultancy model?
It is no different at all. I go into the firm’s London office if I need to. You have that option. But most legal work, even large projects with multiple lawyers, can be done remotely. I am sat here in my office near the sea, but it is no different from me being sat in an office in London. I have my phone, dictaphone, computers, intranet system, internet, and access to all of my documents on the screen.
Has your work in Real Estate become more difficult post-Brexit?
There was certainly an initial affect for certain – people wanted to let the dust settle to see if an appetite would still be there. But I spoke to an overseas client and he said London is never going to be an issue – if people want to invest in Europe it is going to be the UK because that is where they see the best return. I don’t think Brexit has had a massive effect. The age-old problems of not enough sites and sellers having unrealistic expectations about what they can expect to sell for remains though.
How did your clients react when you left a traditional firm?
They were very happy because I had outgrown the firm I was with. I needed a wider compliment – high quality lawyers in multiple disciplines. That’s what my clients wanted and that’s what Setfords offers.
If I need a plot sales team then they will bring in that team. If I need corporate help, I’ve got it. If I need construction help I’ve got it. And these are lawyers who want to do good work for you. I introduced one of my clients to a construction lawyer within the firm and he saved them £800,000. So you can imagine how happy they are.
It gives you the flexibility to earn a substantial amount but not to work all the time.
What have been the greatest benefits of being a consultant?
It is a much more exciting prospect than being at a traditional large firm when you sit there as one of however many people having your own ideas but not being able to put them forward because others don’t agree. I like the fact that the CEOs are open to suggestions as to what should be done. They are dynamic and proactive. They are excited about what is going on.
What are the challenges of being a consultant?
You have got to keep clients happy. Without them you have nothing.
You were offered equity partnership at your last firm, do you have any regrets about turning that down and becoming a consultant lawyer instead?
No. I am earning more now than I would have been as an equity partner. The fee-share split at Setfords is very generous. The truth is you can still be a major player as a consultant, but you are also more in control of your career. Most days I can take time out to go and walk our dog Griffin on St George’s golf course before going back to work. Life as a London lawyer simply did not allow for that.
How does your day end?
I like to finish around 6.30pm and have a nice glass of red, but I am available at any time with my clients so I could be on the phone at 10pm. But that is a small price to pay for the life I enjoy.