City Litigation Partner Tim Hardy on how he is making his transition to working independently and growing a practice

With our focus on transitions this issue we interviewed four different professionals to share their real life experiences, as they transitioned from their successful Corporate roles.

We ask City Litigation Partner Tim Hardy, how he is making his transition to working independently and growing a practice.

Tim Hardy on Transitions1.Can you describe the transition you are making?

I am currently moving from working in a disputes practice in a City law firm for many years, to setting up a new disputes practice for myself.

For the last 21 years I have been the Head of Commercial Litigation at CMS representing clients in complex commercial and corporate disputes.  The job also involved all of the responsibilities associated with managing a large litigation team [including managing (1) Finances from budgeting through to collection (2) HR from recruitment, performance management, welfare to succession planning and (3) Marketing from Business Planning through to execution.

2. What have you found most interesting/enjoyable about the transition?

My new practice is as an independent arbitrator, mediator and disputes coach.  Each of these roles requires different skill sets, which makes each of them exciting and challenging.  I think of them as work at the sharp end of the disputes practice, where critical advice and decisions have to be made on the spot.  I get a great deal of satisfaction working in this space, calling on my experience of fighting cases, dealing with difficult situations and awkward people to give me insights to help lawyers and their clients through these processes.

3. Conversely, what do you find harder as you transition?

The work is a joy, the admin a nightmare! I had no idea how much admin would be involved and how dependent I have been on the support functions at CMS.  Starting out without a PA was a big mistake, as was my assumption that I would be comfortable working from home.  I can and do work from home efficiently, but I miss the companionship of being surrounded by others in a working environment.  It seems sad to admit it but there is no doubt I have become institutionalised.  Silly things, like printers that work and someone to fix it when it does not, an IT helpdesk immediately on hand, a library and librarians who know how to find what you need, a coffee bar and, dare I say, a partners’ dining room.  Bigger things too, like associates who will produce high quality drafts and trainees who will doggedly undertake the forensic analysis of piles of paper or should I say gigabytes of data.  I now have my own Legal Assistant so I am no longer working entirely on my own and am able to handle my case load and admin much more efficiently.

4. What tips would you share with others who are embarking on this type of transition?

Get an assistant on day one.  I waited a year thinking it was important to understand how everything worked, down to the VAT returns, but now I have an assistant who takes the strain of the administration away from me.  Additionally, I find it difficult to say no to all of the opportunities that come along.  As a consequence I have found myself over promising and putting huge strain on myself for fear of under delivering.  So my advice would be to carefully measure the value to the business against the cost to yourself of taking on each opportunity as it arises.  I would also recommend forming alliances with like-minded people who have been through or are going through similar transitions to support each other and work together.

5. In what ways do you approach your career differently now, to how you did when you first started out?

As a rookie lawyer I sketched out a road map with three objectives. First, to get as much training/experience as I could as quickly as possible; secondly, to demonstrate that I was to be trusted so that I would get responsibility to manage my own cases and clients; thirdly, by virtue of one and two get a partnership in a City law firm.  Back then I had a clear career path to follow with lots of support I could call on.  Now, I know my objective; it is to develop my practice both domestically and internationally as a highly respected arbitrator and mediator.  However, I am on my own and there is no preordained career path for me to follow so I have had to design my own and this is evolving as I move along towards this goal.  Staying focused is proving difficult as I get distracted by events and activities many of which take me away from my end goal.  I have learnt to be more discerning about the opportunities that present themselves and to seek advice from others who are role models for me.

6. Who has had the most positive influence on your career or on your approach to work, and what did they teach you?

Without a doubt that would be the Head of Litigation at Simmons and Simmons, Richard Sykes.  He gave me my first big break employing me to work as his assistant on libel cases, mostly for The Daily Telegraph.  In those days, it was customary for anyone libelled to deny the allegation, proudly announce they had issued a ‘writ’ and then do nothing to progress the claim.  As a consequence, we had hundreds of dormant files any one of which could burst into flames at a moment’s notice.  And when they did we had some hairy moments working up cases in a matter of days for full blown jury trials. It gave me the best grounding I could have hoped for in managing difficult situations and dealing with difficult people in very demanding circumstances.

7. If you’d know then, what you know now… is there anything that you’d want to go back and change?

My initial reaction is probably not.  I loved my job and my cases.  I can recall the twists and turns of fate in all of them.  On reflection, however, I would like to have found a way to delegate more effectively and avoid the long hours I worked in the middle of my career to maintain my position on the slippery pole.  I still struggle with delegation but now know that if I try to do everything myself I will drown and the enjoyment I get from my work would disappear.

8. Many people I coach struggle to find time for the networking required… what advice can you share?

Early in my career I struggled with marketing and was deeply uncomfortable direct selling.  In my early career I relied mostly on developing a network of loyal clients who had worked with me and who shared common interests, mostly in sports.  Later in my career when I needed to raise my own profile and a network to attract new clients I worked out that for me referral networks were the best way of finding clients and that is how I found my way into both arbitration and mediation.  I focused my marketing around some of the leading ADR institutions and became good friends with like-minded professionals.  Suddenly, networking was a pleasure, not a chore, and successful.  Knowing that the institutional networking would give credibility and opportunities to demonstrate thought leadership, which in turn would result in introductions to clients, gave me the motivation to find the time to do it, despite the demands of the day job.

9. What’s been your proudest moment since you started this transition?  

That would be when, after a tricky assignment as a disputes consultant involving helping a law firm maintain a relationship with a disgruntled client, the individual who had appointed me told me that how thrilled he was with the result and surprised that I had managed to pull it off.

10. What’s next for you this year?  

Next year I am focusing on developing my penetration of the market in the international arbitration space, working with and expanding my network going directly to the market to secure appointments.

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