Ex-lawyer sets up in-house lawyer service
Richard Mullett worked at Slaughter and May for six years before moving in-house - first to 02 and then to Neos Networks, a VC funded telecoms company where he joined as the Legal Director in 2000. The experience of growing and then selling Neos Networks in 2003 led him to set up The Legal Partners. The Legal Partners act as in-house lawyers for ambitious businesses who need practical lawyers on the team to aid their growth. We asked him about working in-house, setting up a business and what makes The Legal Partners different from your average firm.
mtl: Hi Richard, tell us about your legal career before you set up your own company.
Richard: I was interested in business law and finance from a young age and did a placement at HSBC in my gap year before university. I trained at Slaughter and May and worked as an assistant in the company and commercial group for a further four years. The people I worked with were excellent, the work was varied and it gave me fantastic experience which allowed me to subsequently move in-house.
I particularly enjoyed dealing with fast moving companies that were growing rapidly and this made me think about going in-house, where I could be closer to the business and the strategy. In 1998 I identified the telecoms market as an area that I would like to specialise in and approached a number of businesses. At that time 02’s legal team was headed up by Nicholas Eldred, who is now head Legal Counsel at the BBC. The team was at the heart of 02’s business and it seemed a natural fit for me.
I looked after M&A work, sports and media sponsorship (of the England rugby team, Capital Radio flying eye, Middlesborough FC and the All Saints band to name a few) as well as the dealer channels there. The mobile phone market was changing hugely in the late 90’s and we acquired many high street retailers and service providers. The General Counsel worked closely with the managing director and as a team we spent a lot of time agreeing strategy with the marketing and sales directors. I was able to get really close to the business side of the company and I learnt a huge amount. O2 was a very fast-growing company and expanded from 3,000,000 to 10,000,000 customers in two years between 1998 and 2000.
02 consolidated its success and I began to look for the next opportunity to experience similar expansion. This time I looked at internet companies and considered a move to Amazon before becoming the legal director of Neos Networks, which was funded by VCs. Three years later it was listed by The Sunday Times as the 6th fastest growing IT/ Telecoms business and its annual turnover had grown from £1,000,000 to £17,000,000. The job involved raising further venture capital from UK and US firms. I set up the legal team there and worked closely with the CEO and CFO. We managed the company and our investors through the highs and inevitable lows of the high-tech collapse in 2001. Despite the market traumas, we successfully sold Neos Networks to one of its largest customers, Scottish & Southern Energy plc, in 2003.
mtl: So why did you not move to another in-house role?
Richard: The experience at Neos Networks highlighted to me a real gap in the legal market. I knew that fast-growing companies needed high quality in-house lawyers with experience in business, who could combine corporate fundraising, commercial and employment law to help them grow. A typical example is helping companies negotiate key sales contracts with large Global PLCs. By that point I had very good skills in these areas.
Banking and finance – Loughborough University
CPE and LPC at College of Law, Lancaster Gate
Training contract, Slaughter and May
Assistant, company and commercial, Slaughter and May
In-house lawyer at O2
Legal Director, Neos Networks
Founded The Legal Partners, in house lawyers for fast moving companies
I set up The Legal Partners to do just that, and tailored our in-house legal service to meet the needs, and ease the headaches, of ambitious companies that are grappling with growth and facing the same issues that I had faced. Companies at this stage have 3 options:
- they can hire their own in house lawyer, which is expensive,
- they can go to a City firm, which may be too weighty a solution,
- or they can instruct a high street practice.
None of these is ideal, nor tailored to what they really need.
Our clients have practical, in-house lawyers on hand who understand their business and work alongside them, often at their offices. Because we’ve all worked in-house, we’ve been in our clients’ shoes, often in their sectors, and we can draw on our practical experience to anticipate and solve similar issues for them. It’s what makes us different, and highly effective. And it’s very rewarding. Before we set up the company, we approached several owner-managers of forward thinking businesses and road tested the concept with them. They became our first clients and our reputation has spread since then.
We are based in Richmond in Surrey. Our clients are based locally, in the City, Thames Valley, M3 and M4 corridors and have a turnover of £1m-£20m, at least ten employees, or need help raising money from venture capitalists. Basically our clients have already demonstrated that they can grow their business but need help to get to the next level, so we assist with the major turning points. We work with board directors, owner-managers, sales teams, HR managers and our clients’ in house legal teams to name a few.
I find running my own business exciting and challenging. I get to combine my legal expertise with my commercial experience doing quality legal work for quality clients. I am constantly learning, but am able to identify directly with our clients, particularly as I understand cash flow issues and so can provide a much more effective legal service for them. At The Legal Partners, I particularly enjoy the opportunity to advise across a number of industry sectors. This is really unusual. For the whole team, currently 8 strong, it keeps our skills sharp and our commercial minds nimble. An added bonus is that we are not pigeonholed into certain industry sectors or areas of law.
mtl: What advice do you have for lawyers in private practice who are considering a career change?
Richard: Find a market or industry that you are interested in e.g. when I left Slaughter and May it was because I had decided to focus on telecoms. If you are in a large law firm and are not getting enough variety, then speak to the people you know in large businesses and find out what they do.
Try to get some in-house experience along the way, e.g. by doing a secondment. I didn’t do one, but I was a small business adviser for The Prince of Wales Small Business Trust while I was at Slaughter and May and that gave my legal experience an extra dimension. In-house work suits some people more than others; personally I find it more rewarding. If you like variety, being close to the action, seeing the difference you make, and if you’re practical, intrigued by business, and good with people, then go for it - what’s the worst that can happen?
mtl: Thank you Richard.
If you are interested in advising the big businesses of tomorrow then click here to see The Legal Partners’ website. The Legal Partners are currently looking for a lawyer with City training and in-house experience to help advise across a range of sectors. If you are practical, commercial, have great communication and IT skills and can work with people at all levels, then click here to read the job specification.
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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