Ex-City lawyer sets up her own firm
Bhavini Kalaria trained in the City and worked as a litigator at Russell-Cooke LLP for five years before her three year old son was born. After finding it difficult to get back into the legal market in 2011, she has decided to set up her own firm, which went live last week. Her aim is to provide advice that enshrines “City Standards & Local Values” and we will speak to her again in 2012 to see how being a sole practitioner is going.
mtl: Please can you start by telling us about your legal career before your son was born.
Bhavini: After doing a law degree at Kings, I trained at Simmons & Simmons, which I enjoyed as I had a good intake and it was a nice place to work. However I wanted to work outside the City and when I qualified I left to do commercial litigation and professional negligence at IBB in Uxbridge.
After a year there I moved to do commercial litigation and professional negligence at Russell-Cooke in Putney and stayed there for five years. I loved it as the work was interesting and my colleagues were good lawyers.
mtl: What were your plans when you left the firm?
Bhavini: I left Russell-Cooke when my son was born as I wanted an extended amount of time at home with him. At the time, my ex-husband was setting up a law firm. I helped him set up the practice and also worked with him part time as a Consultant covering different areas of work. We are now divorced and when my son was two I started looking for employment again.
I have found it difficult to get back into the job market, which I put down to the length of time I’ve been out of it, the economy and the fact that I was initially looking for part-time work, which is unusual unless you are returning from maternity leave to the same firm. Firms wanted to know what I’ve been doing and why I left and I was up against other lawyers who’ve been made redundant and have been employed more recently than I have. I’ve done some freelance work but didn’t find a suitable permanent role. This led me to decide at the end of September 2011 to start out by myself.
mtl: How have you gone about setting up your firm?
Law degree, Kings, London
LPC, Guildford College of Law
Trainee, Simmons & Simmons
Assistant, IBB Solicitors
Assistant, Russell-Cooke LLP
Maternity / Part time Consultancy
Launched The London Law Practice
Bhavini: I spent October 2011 doing courses in the areas that I intend to cover and sorting out the compliance side of things, including the authorisation to practise and my insurance. I spent most of November 2011 finalising my case management and accounts systems, setting up my file procedures, drafting my client care and terms and conditions of business and doing other administrative tasks. I also concentrated on the website which has taken quite a bit of time and altogether it’s taken about two months to be able to launch the firm.
My firm is called The London Law Practice. Initially I will be working from home in north London with a virtual office where I can hold meetings. The most challenging aspect has been the website as I am technically incapable and needed someone to do it all for me! Juggling getting everything set up with looking after a three year old as a single mother has also been tough, as has the fact that I’ve had no income since July. It is a worry, but also very motivating.
I have done a lot of preparation, am excited and am looking forward to doing the legal work as I enjoy being a lawyer, though of course I’m slightly nervous too about getting clients in. I’m advertising in The Yellow Pages and local papers, I’m running some seminars between December 2011 and March 2012 and I attend lots of networking events where I meet potential clients.
I will be covering company and commercial, e-commerce, litigation, employment, commercial property for landlords, residential property, wills and probate and private client! It is a lot but I am fortunate to know people who I can get guidance from and I have re-trained in the relevant areas.
The tag line for my firm is “City Standards & Local Values That Deliver Outstanding Results”. I would like to build a high street business that has a high standard of legal advice, while offering a personal and bespoke service. I am targeting local commercial businesses that need good legal advice and am aiming to develop long-term relationships with them.
mtl: Would you do anything differently if you had your time again and do you have any advice?
Bhavini: If I knew how hard it would be to get back in to the legal sector after having a child, I would have gone back after a year of maternity leave. But then I wouldn’t have had the time with my son that I’ve had and also I was expecting to be working with my ex-husband at this point, which is obviously no longer an option.
I’ve had to get over the fear of it not working out, which required a positive mindset. If you are thinking about doing it, then bite the bullet and go for it if the idea is close to your heart and you feel passionate about it. I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer and I enjoy the work, so I’m excited about getting back into it.
When sorting out the regulatory side of things, be very practical and understand the timeframes – give yourself a timeline, understand how long is needed to turn around an application and think carefully about the areas that you want to practise. Talk to other sole practitioners to find out how they’ve organised their offices, how to advertise and to get some tricks of the trade…
mtl: Good luck Bhavini.
You can see Bhavini’s website here: www.londonlawpractice.com
UPDATE IN DECEMBER 2012
mtl: Hi Bhavini, it is a year since we interviewed you when you were just setting up your own firm - how is it going?
Bhavini: In a nutshell – it has gone very quickly! I've enjoyed the last year and despaired at times in equal measure. The regulatory environment for solicitors remains a heavy burden for smaller firms, but at the same time the freedom I enjoy and the commitment I have to The London Law Practice means that, on a personal level, this year has been deeply satisfying.
The firm has grown in its capabilities and capacity by using experienced consultant solicitors, which is wonderful. I have also really enjoyed meeting lots of people from all walks of life - something which I may not have done had I not set up on my own.
mtl: What have been your main challenges this year?
Bhavini: The main challenge has been getting in new work. It has also been challenging being a working single parent, but I am fortunate to have a great support network which has made the business tenable from that point of view.
mtl: Do you have any advice for our readers who are thinking of setting up as sole practitioners?
Bhavini: Yes - stay brave and belted - it is not the easiest of rides, but it is still a thrill!
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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