Ex-solicitor becomes an art dealer

Gavin Rosenthal clocked up 10 years as a Maritime Solicitor before deciding that he wanted to do something that he felt passionate about.  He left his in-house job to set up Art and the City, and now provides a personal service to City professionals in acquiring contemporary works of art.   He displays the works on his website and takes it for viewings to potential buyers in their London homes or offices.  We spoke to him about his career change and how he is finding life away from law. 


mtl:  Hi Gavin, tell us about your legal background?


Gavin:  I studied law at Exeter University, went to Nottingham law school and ended up at a London City law firm, as it seemed to be the natural progression to follow.  I decided to qualify at a niche international practice that happened to be in the maritime sector. This worked out very well,  as I didn't usually have to stay at work until the early hours for days on end (as many of my friends did)...


On qualification, I stayed at the firm for four years, working for the senior partner. After four years PQE, I moved to become an in-house solicitor for a P&I Club, where I stayed for a further six years.  I worked in the Scandinavian and German team and had a much more commercial and multi-jurisdictional role than I had in private practice.  I was working at the coal face of the shipping sector and dealt, on a day-to-day basis, with the major carriers/container lines.  My job included all aspects of maritime law i.e. salvage, collisions, unsafe berths and ports, damage to cargo, reviewing service contracts etc.


mtl:  So, why did you leave law?  


Gavin:  I found the law frustrating and I am too much of a people person to really enjoy it fully.  Having spent time in private practice and in-house and still not finding complete job satisfaction, I made the decision to leave law altogether.  I wanted to be more creative at work and to do something that I was passionate about. I have always been interested in art – I have a small collection myself, and so last summer I made the decision to leave the law altogether.



Career timeline



Law, Exeter Unversity



LPC, Nottingham law school



Training contract, Holmes Hardingham



Assistant, Holmes Hardingham



In-house, Britannia



Set up Art and the City



When looking back with hindsight, I studied law because of family pressure and because a law degree was, and is still, regarded as a very good degree to have.  I was passionate about certain things in private practice but on the whole found the law itself quite turgid.  I wanted a greater buzz and to be able to say that I loved my job – I decided therefore that I couldn’t go on doing something that I wasn’t whole-heartedly passionate about. 


I realised that I had to get off my backside and find something else as it wasn’t going to fall into my lap.  I left the maritime world in February 2007 and am absolutely loving running my new venture. 


Setting the business up was pretty intense. At the beginning I was still in full-time employement, so had to do the initial work for the business early in the morning, late at night and at the weekends.  However I didn't mind the long hours, as I was completely immersed in bringing the business alive.


The business has been up and running for just over two months and I am enjoying every minute of it. I have fourteen artists on board at the moment.  All are established in their own rights and have had their own gallery shows and exhibitions. All the works are original.  They are mostly canvasses and sculptures.  The price range is from a couple of hundred pounds up to five thousand pounds, per piece.


The venture is aimed at City professionals with little time to expend on going to galleries and exhibitions.  I understand my clients and can provide a personal service without them having to leave their home or office.  I do all the running around and bring the works to my clients, either at their homes or offices - it all depends how much time the client has to spare and how focused they are on what they actually want.  I also have "drop-in" days at law firms and other City Institutions, on prior notice to all staff, where they can see a sample of the works on offer and make further appointments, if they so wish.


I have found that competitors either run galleries (which can be slightly intimidating) or their websites don’t offer any personal service or contact apart from delivery.  Therefore one is inevitably buying a piece of art before ever seeing it in "the flesh" and in the enviroment in which it will be eventually hung or placed.  


In the long-run I would like Art and the City to be well-known among those in the City who are interested in starting or adding to an existing art collection.  


mtl:  What tips do you have for the frustrated lawyers out there?  


Gavin:  One of my most important tips would be to be positive and proactive. At the end of the day either do something about your lot or stop complaining.  (As a trainee and young assistant there was many a night sitting around with others bemoaning work and the office! Every trainee and assistant does it.). You can make as many excuses as you wish, but if you really want to get out and do something different then you have to make that leap of faith. 


In my opinion, y ou really do need to have some idea of what you want to do before handing in your notice. Take a step back from your job and the office, list hobbies and interests that could viably be changed into a small business and full-time career. Do loads of research, (hey, it's what you trained for!), and draft a comprehensive business plan. This will keep you focused on what you want to do and how to achieve it.  Also make a list of all your contacts. Networking is the name of the game. (All those cocktail parties, dinners, lunches and client days put on by your firms that you really didn't want to attend at the time will come in extremely useful. Trust me...)


Leaving the law and the financial benefits it can bring is a difficult decision to make and not one to be taken lightly.  However, if there is something else that you have been yearning to do and have the confidence and motivation to do it, then go for it. No-one is stopping you, but yourself. Just be very aware that there will be a lot of hours to put in and setbacks, but if you stick with it, it will be worth it!


If you are interested in looking at the works of art that Gavin is currently displaying, then click 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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