Ex-City lawyer giving you a nudge
Neil Frame trained at Travers Smith and at the end of 2010, after five years away from law, launched a digital lifestyle publication and private review platform for Londoners called The Nudge. Having enjoyed reading Moretolaw interviews as a trainee, he now shares his own experience with us.
mtl: Hi Neil, please can you tell us about you and law.
Neil: In short, we were an uncomfortable pairing. I studied law at Durham and, although I enjoyed the experience of university, the only modules that I particularly enjoyed were Mooting and Philosophy of Law: not a great omen for a dazzling City career! At the end of my second year, despite not particularly taking to law, I applied for a training contract and was offered a job with Travers Smith.
I did the LPC at the Oxford Institute and enjoyed it hugely as it was infinitely more commercial and practical than my studies had been as an undergraduate.
I joined Travers Smith after the LPC, and quite quickly came to realise that I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer - it just wasn’t me. That said, Travers Smith was a fantastic place to work as the partners and my colleagues were all very friendly and supportive, and I’m still in touch with many of them today.
On joining the firm I had no understanding of the nature or the demands of transactional work, nor did I understand the benefits of being part of a firm that provided its clients with great service. In retrospect the necessity to get things done, and to not hold up a transaction that your client’s entrusted you to run for them, is clear. But at the time I found the unpredictability of my working hours quite tough, which lead to me being fairly disillusioned in my job and not performing as well as I could have done (which is obviously a bit of a vicious circle). I think it came from the fact that I knew within a few months of joining that I didn’t want to be a partner. For me, and I know for others in law, coming to that decision makes it pretty tough to be excited and motivated about going in to work each day.
mtl: What did you do next?
1999 - 2002
2003 - 2004
LPC, Oxford Institute
2004 - 2006
Trainee Solicitor, Travers Smith
2006 - 2008
Consultant, Taylor Root
2008 - 2010
Operations Director, Urban Share Ltd
Founder, The Nudge
Neil: I did a fair amount of research in the final few months of my training contract, and was quite surprised at how limited my options were. Part of me had thought that, having trained as a lawyer, I’d be welcomed with open arms into any organisation that I decided to reward with my presence. I remember phoning Working Title Films and confidently announcing my plan to join them as a producer - I was going to be the next Jerry Bruckheimer. They directed me to their website, on which I was encouraged to join 15,000 others in applying for one of their five unpaid summer internships (which would consist – in the unlikely event of me being selected - of doing manual labour for them, probably in the rain, for 12 weeks). I promptly decided that a career “in the movies” wasn’t for me after all.
Some time before qualification I received a call from Taylor Root asking whether I was interested in moving firms. I didn’t want to stay in law, but after a little to and fro and several interviews I ended up joining their international recruitment team.
I enjoyed the social aspects of the job, the travel, the hours of work and the company of my colleagues there. Importantly Taylor Root is full of ex-lawyers, so my leap from law to recruitment didn’t feel, at the time, as large as it was.
But the leap between the two is fairly large, and I really wasn’t cut out for a sales job. I stayed for a little over a year, during which time a friend launched a residential property fund and flat-sharing company for young professionals in London. At the beginning of 2008 he offered me a broad operational role running the flat-sharing company, which I accepted.
The role was completely different to the jobs I’d done before, and was exactly what I wanted to be doing - working with a small team to grow a business from the ground up. It was a genuinely good experience (professionally) but also a shocking amount of fun. I managed the P+L, worked on projections for the company and the investment fund, lead our marketing efforts, redesigned the website, did the first drafts of legal documents and investor communications, worked with the MD on new plans for growth, and – of most importance – I got to wear jeans in to work. Every day.
mtl: Why did you leave?
Neil: We’d agreed that I would receive an equity stake in the business (that would be conditional on me hitting certain targets for the Fund), but I decided that I’d prefer to have a go at starting my own business.
An equity stake that’s conditional on performance, I decided, was an employee incentive - very different from genuinely owning part of a business. I didn’t want to be working in an exciting start-up environment as an employee - I figured you join start-ups to have a vested interest and to be rewarded if the business does well. It is tricky, though, to get the balance right when someone joins your business at an early stage. You can’t unconditionally give them a stake in your business in case they just take it and leave (or, worse still, underperform), yet equally the person joining needs to feel like their own risk in joining your new company is sufficiently off-set by the potential to benefit should things go well. We couldn’t really find a balance that we were both happy with, so we parted ways (thankfully very amicably) in order to allow me the opportunity of starting something myself.
mtl: Tell us about your business.
Neil: The Nudge started life as a social review platform. There are hundreds of review sites covering everything from books to restaurants, and they all contain thousands of reviews of average things written by people that you don’t know. The idea was to have one place for them all, with recommendations only from friends whose opinion you trust and value.
It took a few months to build the site, with it launching in December 2010. Soon after launch the site evolved into a digital lifestyle publication, with a daily email going out to our members highlighting the newest and best of London’s restaurants, bars, entertainment and more. Members now use the site for the emailed content; to exchange reviews with friends; to build their ultimate To Do lists for life in London and to access a growing number of exclusive member benefits.
The majority of our members are 23-37 year old professionals in London. The growth is now really starting to pick up, which is obviously very exciting.
I have a small web development team and have recently started working with another start-up that’s now running our PR and marketing. The plan is to build up the Nudge in London and then launch in further cities, most likely as a sort of virtual private members’ club (which is the direction we’re now going in).
At the moment our main revenue stream is advertising, and the plan is to build on that over the next year or so via exclusive events and new commercial partnerships.
mtl: Do you have any advice?
Neil: Everyone’s priorities in life are different, so I doubt that repeating an “empowering” quotation will be of much use. And I can’t really think of one anyway. That said, I’d assume that most of your readers are lawyers who are interested in exploring other options. So my advice would be to explore any and all options that are of interest, but to do it properly.
Talk to people; research business ideas; read books; attend events etc etc.
It doesn’t have to be a black and white choice of staying in law or leaving it. There will be times (like now) when you can explore and try things out from the comfort of a secure job. People have built entire businesses in their spare time. But if you find yourself still “exploring options” after several months or years, neither jumping ship nor fully embracing your career, then the advice is probably just to jump - you’ll pick out a landing spot on the way down.
mtl: Thanks Neil and good luck with The Nudge.
You can see Neil’s website here: www.TheNudge.com
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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