Neil was called to the Bar in March 1999. Marsha became a Solicitor in 2008. Long before we met, we were both independently becoming frustrated at various aspects of our profession. It was challenging, stimulating, fun, but it was also unwieldy, stuck in its ways and seemed rarely to put the customer first. We felt that we did, but that was not always replicated by other members of our profession. This was the start of our story.
When we met, we hit it off instantly – both personally and professionally. When we did work together we made a pretty awesome team, working on both contentious and non-contentious work. During our many hours together we often discussed the things that frustrated us most about our profession.
Changing the status quo
The first thing was how difficult it was for a layperson to access high quality expertise. The smaller so-called ‘provincial’ law firms rarely have the expertise in-house to enable them to give really good advice. As a result, the client is disadvantaged. Things get missed, or the provincial solicitor charges their (very significant) fees mainly to gather information before instructing a barrister. Barristers could not be accessed without the client having a solicitor as the intermediary. The client had to have “two” and did not get them “for the price of one”.
The larger provincial firms do sometimes have this expertise but sadly, they seem to see it as little more than a licence to print money. The hourly rates charged by even junior lawyers simply cannot be justified. Moreover, they still defer to the Bar at certain key stages, so the client suffers the double-whammy at extortionate rates. Again, the client is disadvantaged. The biggest firms are beyond the budget of all but the wealthiest – or most foolish.
The lack of coordination caused by the aforementioned separation of the professions was another huge frustration. Often the barrister is not involved from the outset but is instead parachuted-in at trial to present a case that someone else has conceived and which is not how they would have positioned it at all. Again, the client is disadvantaged.
Breaking the mould
Early on in his career, Neil began to practice in a way which really did fly in the face of the traditional methods of the Bar. He encouraged direct contact between him and his lay clients. He cultivated relationships and sought to understand not just their present issues but their businesses. And he encouraged his clients to involve him when problems were at their most embryonic stages. Some – even his own clerks – were highly critical of this approach, regarding it as nothing short of heresy. Barristers were supposed to sit in ivory towers waiting for bundles of pink ribbon-tied papers to drop into their laps. They were not supposed to engage in customer service. Yet from the clients’ point of view, working in this way paid dividends. Lower fees, fewer problems, quicker resolution and higher success rates were just a few of the benefits.
For her part, Marsha ensured that she became a true specialist in her area of practice, meaning that a case was properly prepared from the outset. She also built a network of professional contacts with barristers so she could involve them at an early stage where required. The aim was to provide the client with the best of both worlds at the lowest possible cost to them. However, she still felt it surely made more sense to have everything under one roof. This would benefit not only the client but also the legal professional. It avoided duplication of work and made sure everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet.
A change in the law
In 2004, it became possible for the public to instruct a barrister directly. Neil was one of the first barristers to fully embrace this new and far more modern way of working. However, this could mean the client missing out on the skills of a solicitor carefully preparing a case or advising on a matter. In 2009, a further change in the law allowed barristers, solicitors and other suitable persons to form businesses together for the first time.
In the event, work took Neil in a different direction. He was increasingly asked by corporate clients to develop HR teams and improve the quality of the HR provision across various businesses. Marsha also became heavily involved in providing high quality HR advice. She often assisted internal HR functions with the elements that they felt uncomfortable with or just did not have the experience to deal with. Whist some HR people are excellent, it can also be that they are over-cautious, which has the undesirable effect of stifling a business. Given our background we can bring clarity on both as to what is commercially desirable and legally achievable.
Some employment lawyers now offer HR consultancy in various guises, but usually at a lawyers’ fee. Both Neil and Marsha felt this was not right for bog-standard HR advice – and this is a shared vision for us.
Paladin is born
In the summer of 2018, the timing was right and the story progressed. Marsha was ready for a change and Neil wanted to have a team to scale up the expert HR provision that he already offered, without losing the quality. For both of us it was essential that whatever came next struck the right balance between work and family life. Marsha has two children and Neil has three children. Life is busy with family commitments so any move for either of us had to be the right one.
Just one conversation cemented our vision – to establish a revolutionary legal and HR firm which would sweep away all that was wrong with the professions. We wanted to create a firm that would embrace technology and flexible working, not only for us but for everyone who works with us – so ensuring we can capture a highly skilled and under-valued workforce. We embrace remote working and an ethos that a happy team is a hard-working team. The client benefits from people who are committed to giving the best possible advice and from costs savings that we can pass on.
So Paladin was born. A one-stop shop for our clients’ needs, with a whole-team ethos. Outstanding expertise, but at fees that are affordable. All underpinned by truly world-class customer service.
Every day, we practice according to this ethos. It’s the only way we know. Our story continues.