Ex-competition lawyer running his own art consultancy
Last year Rich Pepper left his role as a 3yr pqe competition lawyer at Slaughter and May. After a brief spell travelling to clear his mind, he now runs his own art consultancy. His aim is to de-mystify the art world and make it more accessible to those who are interesting in viewing and buying art.
mtl: Hi, please can you tell us about your legal career…
Rich: Before I went to university I did some work experience with a barrister, so law was on my radar from a young age. I was advised by several people that I didn’t need to study law, so I took the chance to read English instead. I did a vacation scheme in the competition department of Freshfields as a student, which I enjoyed, and in my third year accepted a training contract at Slaughter and May.
I qualified into competition having done a seat in Brussels and spent three years in the firm’s London office. I enjoyed it despite being thrown in at the deep end as the steep learning curve led to some amazing experience and exposure.
mtl: So why have you left, what do you do now and how did you make the transition?
Rich: After several years I realised that I didn’t want to spend my whole career as a competition lawyer. I mulled it over and talked to friends about leaving for a year before I actually did, so the change was a slow process. At the beginning of 2010 I handed in my notice and went travelling for several months to think through my options.
Getting away made it much easier to think more clearly than I could in London. During my time away I realised that I had always wanted to work in the art world. It had been a passion of mine for 10-15 years by then.
GDL and LPC, Oxford
Training contract, Slaughter and May
Competition assistant, Slaughter and
Resigned, went travelling and set up
Rather than looking for a job within the industry, however, I decided to start my own business. There were two reasons for this. First, I had gained a sense of the challenges and excitement of running my own business when organising a large commemoration ball at university, and second I had some issues with how the art world currently works which I wanted to address. The result is an art consultancy which I set up last summer and it’s going well so far. I help people find and buy art and to get more out of the art world, whether they are buying or just viewing.
I find the art world can be almost willfully complicated and opaque, so my approach is to try to come at it from a different angle. I help clients understand the market, how value is created and what opportunities there are. For people who are just interested in viewing good art, then I also take a huge amount of pleasure in providing information on new exhibitions and works on my blog.
I normally charge people a percentage of the value of the art they buy, which requires a level of trust and is based on the premise that the key to my business is to establish long-term relationships. If clients prefer, I charge for my time, based on time or project (according to a rough idea of the price the client wants to spend). Either way, my contacts and broad coverage means that most of the time my charges are easily covered by the money they save on the art itself.
So far my clients have come from networking with direct and indirect contacts and from word-of-mouth referrals. My typical client is 30-50, interested in buying mid-market art for e.g. a new house or because they’ve bought a bit before and I help them understand what’s out there and advise them on valuation and investment.
Before starting the business up, I studied in Florence and at Sothebys, did a huge amount of research, and spoke with as many people as possible. I slowly transitioned from that into developing my brand and website, which was an interesting experience as you continually reassess exactly what you’re doing and what you stand for. My office is currently at home and I am constantly improving at structuring my time. I now generally spend Mondays and Tuesdays working from home when the art world is relatively quiet and the rest of the week I’m out and about. It’s been a big cultural shift from working in an office but I’m getting better at it.
I don’t regret my time doing law as I feel it gives you a helpful structure for thinking and analysis, and I had some great experiences. I think that starting a successful business requires a certain amount of life experience which you obviously acquire through time.
mtl: What are your plans for the future?
Rich: I’m now starting to think about a broader marketing strategy. Over the next year or two I want to make the business sustainable and then successful. Beyond that I’m considering opening my own gallery in the future.
The inevitable ups and downs are challenging and I have days when I’m on top of the world and everything is easy and exciting and others when I have to motivate myself a bit more. I had been warned of this before I started out, but you don’t realise until you do it, how much motivation and energy you need.
Compared to working in a law firm when I didn’t feel that my life was going in the direction that I wanted it to, I now feel a great sense of freedom and purpose doing something that I love and on my own terms. My mission is to make fine art more accessible and that drives me.
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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