Newly qualified lawyer heading to the Alps
Angus Grierson qualified this summer but has stepped away from law and the City for the time being, in favour of life in the Alps. He’s operating a chalet near Val Thorens with his brother for this year’s ski season and we spoke to him about it. We’ll catch up with him in 2011 to see how it went and to see whether he’s gone back to law.
mtl: Hi Angus, tell us about your decisions firstly to do law and then to leave on qualification.
Angus: There are several lawyers in my family and I found my law degree at UCL really interesting, so after doing a few summer placements, I decided to do a training contract. I went to Shearman and Sterling as I had really enjoyed my vacation scheme there and had met some interesting people. It is too strong to say that I fell into law but I ended up working in the City without ever particularly intending to become a corporate lawyer and, like many others, after being not quite sure what else to do.
My training contract was good and I worked hard, did some long hours and met great people. At the end of my third seat when there was talk of qualification, I was tempted to stay. It would have been the easy option in terms of money and status but I felt those were the wrong reasons at the time.
During my fourth seat I told the firm that I wasn’t going to stay on at qualification. It was a risk as my alternative plan wasn’t firmly in place yet, but it would have been wrong to apply for a job and then step out of the process later on. As a result, I’ve found that my former colleagues have been supportive of my plans.
mtl: Why did you decide to run a chalet and how have you put it together as a business?
Angus: I did a ski season before my LPC and worked as a chalet host and driver. I had a great time as I love skiing and the mountains. Last winter I was working very hard and found that I wasn’t enjoying London and was longing for the Alps. My brother was also feeling a bit disillusioned and so we decided that we’d do something about it instead of moaning to each other.
Once we had made the decision to run a chalet for a ski season in principle, I naively thought that it would all be very straightforward to set up. Finding a chalet was obviously the most important thing to do. We chose the Three Valleys because it is a large and prestigious ski area and we wanted to offer a fairly high-end experience. Within that, Val Thorens is the highest, quietest and least commercialised of the three resorts and we could afford to rent a chalet and run holidays there. We aren’t going to get rich doing this, but we hope to make some pocket money on top of our expenses.
Training contract, Shearmans
Set up Ski Neon
Ski Neon opens for business
For several weeks we spent Saturday mornings ringing people and trawling the internet for a chalet. After six weekends without much luck, we went out to visit the area over the May 2010 bank holiday and drove around knocking on doors. People were much more receptive that way and we found several options, though most of them were too expensive. Finally we found the chalet that we have rented and signed the contract in June 2010.
My brother was able to arrange for a website to be done very quickly and then we were up and running. In June and July I was still busy at work and was selling the chalet on the side of that. We were 50% full within the first few weeks through contacts forwarding on our details and we used www.chaletfinder.co.uk rather than agencies who take a large commission.
I finished work at the end of August 2010 and am now sorting out the logistics for the winter, from arranging licences, to organising a van, to taking on accountants, to buying towels and crockery and sorting out how the linen will be cleaned. It’s a very different life to that of a few months ago and much busier than I expected. I’m enjoying it as I work my own hours and I’m my own boss but I didn’t anticipate how long it would take to plan everything in time for mid-November.
I’ve run a chalet before and although it is extremely hard work, at least I know what to expect. Also, my brother’s girlfriend, Gemma, is in charge of all the catering so that takes some of the day-to-day pressure off us.
The business side is the new and harder part. We’ve set up a company here and registered a branch in France, which a friend of mine in Paris was able to help me with. Insurance is an absolute minefield and we are covered for everything you could think of. We are using an accounting and book-keeping company that does a lot of work for chalets. My father speaks French fluently and has been able to help with certain things like buying the van licence at the correct time. Budgeting has been hard as we haven’t done anything like it before, but we’ve taken a prudent approach to costs and are assuming the worst.
mtl: What are your plans for the future?
Angus: We will see how the first season goes before deciding in the Spring what to do next. I have put lots of time and effort into the business and would like to continue it somehow. However I am also keen to go back into law in some form as it is a waste not to use it and there were some very interesting parts of my training contract. I haven’t made a decision against doing law, I just decided that Ski Neon was something that I really wanted to do at this point in my life.
I have to be careful about how long I’m out of the game for but am hopeful that potential employers will look at the entrepreneurial and commercial experience that I will have by then as positive and useful.
When I left the office in August, I was yearning to be outside. Once I’m there it will be interesting to see whether the grass might be greener and whether the daily roll into an office will suddenly be more appealing...
mtl: Thank you Angus and good luck this winter.
You can see Ski Neon’s website 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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