As Halebury continues to celebrate ten years in NewLaw from 2007 – 2017, Co-founder and CEO Denise Nurse talks about the firm’s journey over the past decade, from start-up to where it is today.
Halebury is a relationship. I often think of it like a child. As a start up business back in 2007, it was just an idea, a concept, and together my friend and colleague Janvi Patel and I had the privilege of bringing it to life.
When Janvi shared her idea for a new type of law firm and asked me to join her, it wasn’t a hard decision. I could see the future and it involved lawyers who were re-inspired to pursue their careers and clients getting access to brilliant lawyers at a reasonable price. Technology used effectively meant we could streamline the process of delivering legal advice and free lawyers up to work more flexibly and achieve the much talked about work/life balance.
Ten years on and I can honestly say that working with a friend has been a great experience. Our path has not been a linear one by any stretch of the imagination. Between us whilst launching and developing Halebury, we have both got married, had three children each and moved out of London and the UK. Yet we have always risen to the challenges we have set ourselves, communicated well, supported each other and been clear on our ambitions for our business.
It has been a wonderful journey and definitely one of the best life decisions I’ve made. Here are a few thoughts on the decade.
Life in 2007
I had just left my in-house legal job to become a television presenter, presenting the weather for Sky News, travelling the world for Sky Travel and then travelling the country for Escape to the Country on the BBC. It was a bit of a dream. I had however, wanted to be a lawyer from a young age and didn’t feel ready to leave the law. When Janvi spoke to me about her idea for a NewLaw firm it made perfect sense. Working with her to figure out ‘what good would look like’ for lawyers and clients and designing the kind of firm that I would want to work for appealed.
At the time, in-house teams were still relatively small and there was still a sniff of suspicion from private practice colleagues that in-house was some how an easier route. However, when you worked in and for a business you saw the light. The effects of what you did or didn’t say were played out in front of you and you had a direct contribution to performance. What was needed was access to more talent like that on a flexible and agile basis. I saw the benefits of the way the technology providers I was working with as a tech lawyer approached projects and work and could see so much the legal world could adopt. So Halebury was born.
Faith, belief and support
I have always had unconditional support from my parents for any of the ideas that I come up with to do and with Halebury it was no different.
What was amazing though, was the amount of support and belief we had from so many other people. My first GC at Sky, Deanna Bates, role modelled for me what a woman leader in law could do and achieve. James Conyers also backed me when I told him I was going to set up Halebury. The Sky team as a whole have shown so much faith, became our first FTSE 100 client and we are delighted to still work with them ten years on.
We have had support from so many incredible clients who dared to be different in working with an alternative provider before NewLaw was an established sector. To every single one of those clients, from the global teams to the SMEs and start-ups, you drive us to keep making things better.
We have worked with some great organisations who have created platforms and helped us launch and grow the business, from the British Library Business & IP Centre, a truly invaluable source of inspiration, knowledge and opportunities for SMEs, to diversity supplier organisations such as MSDUK and WeConnect.
Then there are the lawyers. Our incredible team have shared our vision and have contributed so much more than serving our clients so brilliantly. Polly Jeanneret, Ed Rea, Delphine Power, Sarah Batterbury, Raj Koria, Marissa Jones, Caroline Ford and Alex Stewart all joined us over five years ago. We are so proud they remain in our team today.
The biggest challenge has been assembling the right team and keeping the right team in place as the business develops. You certainly cannot build a business alone and we have some of the best and brightest and most passionate people who work with us and who just like our lawyers are experts in their fields. The addition of each one to our team has been a highlight as they have contributed to our growth and energy along the way.
No financial backers. From the start we have backed ourselves and grown organically, that has simultaneously been one of the most challenging and liberating aspects of running the business. When you rely on what you know you can create then you can be almost fearless in the pursuit of growth and betterment.
Educating the market. Funnily enough great ideas whilst seemingly obvious in the end take a period of market education before they reach the tipping point and become the norm. If you haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point please do. It seems that ten years on NewLaw and Alternative Legal Service providers are now an accepted, expected and established part of the industry. We are listed in the Legal 500, we are celebrated in awards for innovation and are making our way into the literature and text books for the industry.
What’s next for Halebury
We are extremely proud of what we have created. Halebury has made it through the early start up days and at ten years old we are preparing the business to graduate up to the next level. With a strong, focussed team, an educated market and a strong brand we have much more that we would like to achieve. We have recently launched our new project Halebury LPM which builds on what we have already established, helping in-house teams to work smarter and use people, processes and technology more effectively.
What’s next for the industry?
It’s been an additional privilege and benefit of my role that I get to advocate for and demonstrate the benefits of diversity and inclusion in business and that is something I’m pleased to see gaining more traction. There’s a long way to go, but the disruption to traditional models is making space for creativity and creativity demands that different voices are heard to create something new.
In the next ten years, I would particularly like to see the next generation of lawyers being provided with an education which better prepares them for the work that will be expected for them, and for young lawyers to look up and around them and see role models that they aspire to follow.
Success for our industry will be people being comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, and work being valued on what you achieve in a holistic sense not only on how many hours you sit behind a desk or put on a billing sheet. Freed from such restrictions, lawyers have the power to contribute so much more to our society and I look forward to all of the trailblazers continuing to push for this change.
Go for it. Just back yourself. If you have an idea it will burn a hole in you if you don’t try it. So live life with intention and purpose.
Network, network, network. It’s what human beings are about, working together and building incredible things as a team. So just connect with others, you never know when things will come back to you but you will be richer for reaching out. It can also sometimes be quite lonely and so it’s great to seek out others who are on similar journeys to speak to.
Give back. Taking the time to do something outward looking towards others is invaluable. It gives you perspective and is of course great karma. If you are thinking of taking an entrepreneurial journey within or without a business you will receive help from all sorts of people and you can do the same for others.
Develop yourself. Your mind and thoughts are the difference between what you do and don’t do so take time each day to focus on your own mind and organise your thoughts. Some meditate, pray, exercise, write, but whatever it is, keeping a tidy mind will be important to you.
Enjoy the journey. The destination is not the point – it keeps changing anyway. So savour every experience including those that don’t feel so good at the time. It’s all part of the story.
Denise Nurse is Co-founder and CEO at Halebury.
Follow Denise on Twitter on @email@example.com
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