Using a legal background to make and do business
Nick Lindsay was a 3yr pqe corporate lawyer at Olswang until earlier this year when he set up Elemental CoSec, a company secretarial practice. The business utilises technology to deliver company secretarial solutions and incorporations professionally and efficiently and Nick’s aim is to have a network of freelance company secretaries working remotely in a manner similar to a virtual law firm.
mtl: Please can you start by telling us about your legal career in the City?
Nick: I studied law at Nottingham more because of an interest in the degree itself rather than because I had a clear desire to be a lawyer. After a year’s sabbatical as the Events Officer for the university’s student union, which was my first taste of business, I applied to Olswang, thinking that I wanted to do media law.
During my training contract I found that I preferred corporate work, which is the area that I qualified into. I found it stimulating and interesting but started to consider in-house roles as a more commercial long-term option.
At 2yrs pqe I went on secondment to BBC Worldwide for a year, which I really enjoyed. However, while I was there I realised that I wanted to do something more commercial than being an in-house lawyer. Making the transition internally within a company can be very difficult because of the risk of being pigeon-holed as a lawyer, so I began to investigate setting up my own business instead, something that I had always dreamed of doing.
mtl: How did you come up with the idea for your business and what does it do?
Nick: The idea for Elemental CoSec came from firstly “going with what I know” (in the words of Alan Sugar!) i.e. retaining a link to the legal market. The area has historically been quite paper based and staid with two major failings. Firstly, most existing company secretarial offerings are inefficient in the way they operate and secondly they do not prioritise client service. In some ways they still operate like a lot of law firms did 10-20 years ago.
I saw that there was a gap in the market for a business that embraced a modern way of working and delivered an efficient yet professional service. I took inspiration from virtual law firms and applied the same principles of technology and reduced overheads. Our long term aim is to create a network of remote company secretaries with backgrounds from top City firms and who have experience in providing practical and client centred advice.
I thought about the idea for about a year before fully committing to it and leaving Olswang. It took about three to six months to set up with the branding and website taking a lot longer than I anticipated. I run the business with a friend who trained at PwC and our target clients are law and accountancy firms, where we generally provide outsourced services, as well as larger corporate businesses which we work for directly. We found that the internet is an amazing resource for research as we set up the business and we’ve also leant quite heavily on friends and business developments colleagues for advice as to our branding and message.
Law, Nottingham (including a
LPC, Nottingham Law School
Training contract, Olswang
Corporate associate, Olswang
Launched Elemental CoSec
Our work consists of two core areas; incorporating companies and annual compliance duties i.e. maintaining registers, filing annual returns and keeping Companies House records up to date, although we find ourselves providing a variety of corporate support services to clients as needed.
mtl: How is it going and what have been the challenges so far?
Nick: We’ve been running for almost six months now and it’s going very well so far because, especially in the current climate, clients are looking to save costs by using us and we are getting a good level of recommendations. The virtual model allows us to keep our costs down and we divide our time between business development and client work.
We have gained clients through referrals, directly from our website and because we’ve gone to talk to firms. Generally we provide an outsource model where we offer the service to the firm and they pass on the work to their clients at up to four times the rate that we charge. It allows the firm to provide an efficient and professional service while taking advantage of our low cost base. We’re part of the growing legal process outsourcing trend that many firms are now adopting and it’s a very exciting market to be in as it’s definitely the direction that the professional services industry is heading in.
At the moment we are doing all the company secretarial work ourselves (which for me has been the easiest aspect of the business so far due to my experience as a corporate lawyer) as well as running the business side. Our plan is to bring in colleagues as we grow, who can work flexibly and remotely from home as freelance company secretaries.
There has been a continual stream of challenges! We had a lot to learn, particularly about the large number of regulations that apply to professional services (and the cost and time that complying with them involves), building the website (which I did from a template, with some graphic design assistance) and setting up a virtual firm. The transition from working at a law firm to doing everything myself was difficult and although each individual aspect was straightforward to overcome, overall everything was new and different and that has been the challenge.
The biggest surprise for me was the different approach to business development and marketing that I have for my own business compared to being a junior assistant at a law firm - it is now so much more personal.
The reactions of friends and family have also been interesting, ranging from polite and optimistic to slightly sceptical, to those who are envious and excited for us. It’s a scary prospect setting up your own business and it is the people who are genuinely excited for you that make the process so much more achievable.
mtl: What are you enjoying most about your new job and do you have any advice for our readers?
Nick: Getting up in the morning is much easier now and my brain switches on and starts running through what I need to do each day immediately. Building something is a great feeling and it is good to feel that the desire to start my own business wasn’t just a pipe dream and is everything I hoped it could be.
If you are thinking about starting up a business, there are always a million reasons why not to. My approach was to wonder “what’s the worst that can happen?” I had good feedback in my previous job and felt that I could go back to practising law if I wanted to, so the worst case scenario would be that I was a year or two behind in a legal career. It felt crazy not to take the risk and the business hasn’t been a huge investment financially and is already profitable. Having said that, I did save in advance in order to do it and I lived pretty frugally before leaving my lawyer’s salary.
Click here to see the Elemental CoSec website
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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