Ex-City lawyer runs publishing house and lawyers' gift service
Philip Jenks was called to the Bar before cross-qualifying at Ashurst. Since leaving the law he has worked for a legal magazine, edited a handbook for lawyers, set up a publishing company and bought Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (a gift service for lawyers) among other things and is currently writing a novel. We spoke to him about life after law and whether he regrets leaving it all behind.
mtl: Hi, please can you start by telling us about your legal career.
Philip: I was never really attracted to the law from word go. I wasn’t from a legal background and went into it because I thought it was a great platform from which to do other things (at least that is what I was told it would be)! I studied politics at Exeter, before being called to the Bar at Middle Temple.
I tried to extricate myself as soon as I joined the profession really, although I cross-qualified as a solicitor at Ashurst first. I found that my training contract alternated between being boring and scary and that I didn’t learn a huge amount along the way. On the plus side, my legal background has meant that I don’t fear lawyers or contracts and that has been a benefit.
Leaving law was easy at the time as I didn’t feel that I was leaving anything behind. The hard part of course was thinking about what I would do next. Maybe if I had stayed longer I would have enjoyed it more but I’ll never know.
mtl: What did you leave law to do?
Philip: I wanted to run my own business and my interest was mainly in books and publishing them. At first I wrote for a legal magazine for about a year. Then I edited a book called The Official Lawyer’s Handbook, which is a satirical guide to the legal profession. This came about because I saw the US version in a library and called the publishers to ask if I could edit an edition for the UK. It did fairly well here and sold 10,000 copies. I went on to publish similar books about doctors and MBAs.
Law conversion, City University
Inns of Court Bar School
Called to the Bar
Training contract, Ashurst
Writing for a legal magazine
Editing The Official Lawyers’ Handbook
Set up Harriman House (publishing)
Bought Carbolic Smoke Ball Co.
In 1993 I set up a publishing company called Harriman House. It is a small niche house which publishes finance, business, economic and political books. Publishing a book is actually quite easy. The hard part is getting it into the shops, a challenge because far more books are published in the UK than the shops can possibly accommodate. Harriman House doubles up as an online financial bookshop and therefore wears two hats. Organisations like the London Stock Exchange can either link to Amazon or to us for their specialist books. The company has grown steadily and now turns over about £1.5m.
I spent ten years at the helm of Harriman House and then in 2004 employed someone else to run it. At that point I bought Carbolic Smoke Ball Co., an online and mail order gift service for lawyers which I had known about for many years. I have run that part-time for three years and am also involved in the UK side of JokeNews, which was set up in the US by one of the people behind the Bebo social network. Most of things I do are fun. Invariably the most enjoyable part of running a business is in the early stages when you are turning an idea into reality.
mtl: So, tell us about running your own businesses.
Philip: I love working for myself and not having to commute. It can be lonely though. On balance I think my decision to leave the law was a good one. Having said that, if I had the choice of earning millions as a partner in a City firm, or doing what I currently do, then it’s a close decision. If my publishing company continues to do well and I sell it then there will be no contest. If that doesn’t happen then I will just have to assume that the journey must surely have been more pleasant this way?
mtl: Do you have any advice for lawyers?
Philip: If you are thinking of setting up your own business, make sure you get into a sector that has potential. It is easy to toil on stony ground and I would include publishing in that as it is a mature business where margins have been squeezed over the years. However, the benefit of publishing is that it is a civilised, creative industry and the products are “nice”. But if you want to earn big bucks, find a fast-growth area to get involved in.
Another important thing to consider is whether you are better jumping out of law into thin air when you first qualify, or building up some contacts and knowledge of a particular sector and leaving the profession at a later date. There is a lot to be said for doing your own thing only when you have the contacts to leverage off, and if you can stay in the same industry or sector when you leave then that would be even better.
mtl: Thanks for your time Philip.
Click here to go to Philip’s publishing company, Harriman House
Click here to go to the Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. website
Click here to go to the JokeNews website
If you are interested in updating the Official Lawyer’s Handbook, or joining Philip in the growth of Carbolic Smoke Ball contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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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