Ex-City lawyer sets up cookery school
Jo Bertinet spent 13 years at Freshfields before leaving London to set up a cookery school in Bath with her French husband. She now looks after the business side of The Bertinet Kitchen, while he runs the courses. We spoke to Jo about leaving law and leaving London.
mtl: Hi Jo, tell us about your legal career.
Jo: I trained at Freshfields and qualified into the litigation department there. I worked on very large-scale cases, which was great until I had kids and found that I couldn’t really do both.
I negotiated a part-time arrangement but found that ultimately mixing a big job like that with small children just didn’t work for me. Due to the type of work I did, I didn’t have the right experience to move to a smaller firm, so I saw my choices as limited.
To their credit, Freshfields did try hard to find a way of keeping me. Some women can manage it and it ultimately depends on how you want to balance your life. For me the balance was too far towards work, whereas for someone else it would have been fine. I didn’t think that it would have been practical to take a career break and we never discussed it.
Instead, I had always felt that I would ultimately do something away from law. I hadn’t planned to stay after qualification, but in actual fact it took me another eleven years to work out what I wanted to do! I always knew that I would like to have my own business though. In fact the main motivating factor for the choice I finally made actually stemmed from the fact that I had married a chef. It turned out that what I should do was presented to me on a plate.
Two years before I left Freshfields, we started to plan how we could combine our skills and work together in the food industry. We considered moving to France, but in the end decided not to as moving to a new business climate would have been throwing away the commercial experience in this country that I had gained from being at Freshfields. A year before I resigned, we began to plan The Bertinet Kitchen and by the time I left it was very much ready to go.
mtl: Tell us about what you do now.
Jo: The Bertinet Kitchen is a purpose-built recreational cookery school, with demonstrations and hands on classes for beginners through to advanced cooks.
We also do corporate events. In the future we may open a bakery to consolidate my husband’s interest in bread – he has already written a book on dough. It is very easy to work with my husband as he runs the kitchen and I do the business side. We therefore don’t see each other all the time and have different areas of expertise and control.
LPC, Store Street
Set up The Bertinet Kitchen
It is hugely demanding to run your own business and I think it is actually much more stressful than doing a City law job, and the hours are longer. At Freshfields I used to get home late but I left the work behind me. Now I never leave it behind at the end of the day as every day affects what goes into our bank account at the end of the month.
It is certainly much more secure to be employed as you don’t have to worry about money. I also very much miss my secretaries at Freshfields as I always knew that what I gave them to do would be done efficiently. One of the hardest things about a small business is not having any support on that front.
However it is ultimately much more rewarding to work for yourself, the main advantages being freedom and control over your life. Now that I am doing it I would never want it any other way. I can work around the kids and I make it to all their events as it is up to me when I work. I often find I work late at night instead.
I don’t miss law and feel very removed from that world now. I enjoy this job so much more. It is fun and so varied – one minute I can be doing PR, then looking at the accounts, then talking to customers. I never have to sit and stare at the same piece of work for long periods of time.
I am a bit of a Londoner at heart so I do miss the buzz there. However I also love Bath, which is a great place to live, work and bring up children and I certainly don’t miss the commuting. I have always loved food and eating out, and the only other job I would like to do now is to be a restaurant critic.
mtl: Do you wish you had left earlier in your career? And do you have any advice for other lawyers wanting to set up on their own?
Jo: No, I learnt useful lessons as a lawyer and I’m not sure we would have been as successful if I had tried to do it when I was younger. I don’t know if that is because of maturity or what I have learnt from law, but I’m glad I did it later.
To set up our business, we conducted a thorough review of what else was out there, what classes they ran and why they were successful or not. We identified a potential market in Bath as there was no real competition, and then secured premises and investment.
If you are considering setting up a business then think long and hard about it as I imagine it would be difficult to go back to law. I don’t mean in terms of being able to get a job, but I think that to change your lifestyle, mindset and personal circumstances completely and then to try and change them all back would be very hard. Everything about my life, other than my family, changed in order to make this happen, and to change it all back having made that leap could be difficult mentally...
For details of Richard Bertinet’s book on dough, and to read about vouchers and packages available at The Bertinet Kitchen, 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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