Ex-City lawyer becomes an urban gardener
Cesca Maurice-Williams trained and worked at Simmons & Simmons before leaving law to set up her own company. The result is The Urban Garden, an online business that supplies stylish and practical items for urban spaces. She has lots of plans for the future including launching a catalogue and introducing an interiors line to counteract the seasonal nature of the products. We asked her about her career change…
mtl: Hello, please can you tell us about your legal career?
Cesca: After university I worked for a couple of years in PR, marketing and hospital management, before converting to law because I wanted a professional qualification and an intellectually challenging job. I trained at Simmons & Simmons and qualified into the commercial department where I specialised in IT and telecoms. It was a really nice firm but not the right working environment for me. I was looking around at commercial roles in telecoms companies in Hong Kong when I was hit by glandular fever.
I had to take a long period off work and Simmons & Simmons were very supportive. When I returned to work, the telecoms bubble had burst, so moving to a commercial role was no longer an option and I was keen to just get on with doing a full-time job and leading a “normal” life. However as I re-gained my strength I started to think about leaving law again and by 2-3 yrs PQE I had resigned.
mtl: How did you go from assistant solicitor to business owner?
Cesca: I spent 6-9 months after I had recovered from being ill researching business ideas and franchise options. However it got to the point where I couldn’t stand being a lawyer any more, so in July 2004 I resigned before I knew exactly what I was going to set up. I found practising law tedious and uncreative because I wasn’t stimulated by it and had begun to dread Monday mornings from the preceding Thursday! This was despite liking the people I worked with and the fact that the firm was a perfectly pleasant place to be if you enjoyed the work.
However in the long run, law has proved to be a useful background as I am not daunted by drafting documents or dealing with staff or suppliers. Being a qualified solicitor gives you a certain amount of confidence, you know the right way of doing things and are aware of what to look out for. So I don’t regret having done it…
History BA Hons: St Catherine’s, Cambridge University
PR, marketing and hospital management
CPE and LPC
Training contract, Simmons & Simmons
Assistant, Simmons & Simmons
Left law and set up The Urban Garden
Launched The Urban Garden
The Urban Garden came about because I had bought a flat and couldn’t find anything stylish and reasonably priced to go in my small outdoor space. I saw an opportunity and spent a couple of months looking into the option of doing something in that area. This involved checking out competitors, going to trade and business fairs, and using Business Link for commercial advice.
It took a year to set up the business and on the back of private investment and a bank loan I launched it in July 2005. Initially my brother helped me in the planning phase but after the first few months it was just me until I took on three employees six months after launching. I was happy to do it by myself though as I was fully committed and didn’t want to work with someone else whose plans may have changed along the way.
I have really enjoyed running the business so far. Despite working far harder than I ever did as a lawyer, I never have that Sunday night / Monday morning feeling and I really enjoy my work. Running a small business is very challenging and you need to be resilient and able to bounce back quickly. I never know what the next day will hold and that keeps me on my toes. If you don’t mind unpredictability, then great – but I wouldn’t recommend going down this route if you need a lot of security. I’ve had points where I’ve wondered if I’ll come out of it whole but have always just got on with it and worked through the problems that have arisen.
mtl: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Cesca: Get as much advice as you can from everyone you know, and plug into the free knowledge bases that are available from the Government such as Business Link. Be certain that the working style will suit you. For example, running your own business often starts out with working by yourself in your flat for long periods of time so, if you need regular interaction with colleagues, be aware that it can be isolating. Also, be prepared for how much work it will be. You will probably work longer and harder than you expected. I am more disciplined with my work/life balance now than I used to be and take every other weekend off – but the business is still completely consuming.
Finally, don’t end up trapped in law just because you invested the time in getting the qualification in your twenties. In the grand scheme of things the training was only for three or four years, which is a small period of time within a long working life. I know it does depend on individual circumstances but if you are so unhappy in law that it is not an option not to leave, then go and do something else!
You can see The Urban Garden website by clicking here.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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