Director and Consultant Solicitor
Based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
Hi Jonathan, can you describe your organisation?
PNC Legal is the company through which I provide different consultancy services. Where those services involve the provision of legal advice or reserved legal activities, which predominantly they do, they are delivered exclusively through Keystone Law, for whom I act as a Consultant Solicitor.
How many people work at Keystone?
It’s growing rapidly, but I believe that there are currently around 270 Consultant Solicitors spread across the UK. Many, like myself, have joined from large international or City firms. It’s a great set up, for solicitors and clients, as is evident from the string of high profile awards the firm has won.
What have you found to be the main difference between working at a dispersed law firm and a traditional one?
The autonomy is so much greater in a dispersed firm, which is extremely refreshing but perhaps not surprising. However, what has surprised me is the high level of camaraderie, collaboration and support that I’ve experienced at Keystone, both from other consultants and office staff. I think this is partly down to recruiting great people and partly due to the lack of any internal competition or politics.
What work do you perform in your organisation?
All my work is concentrated around professional negligence claims. Having spent over 14 years defending these types of claims for many of the UK’s leading professional indemnity insurers, I now advise:
- businesses and individuals seeking to bring a professional negligence claim;
- uninsured professionals seeking to defend a professional negligence claim; and
- policyholders and brokers seeking to pursue a related policy claim.
What is your educational background?
I sat an LLB(Hons) BVC Exempt degree at Northumbria University, which combined my law degree and bar vocational course. Having thoroughly enjoyed the experience I later gained working in a firm of solicitors, I then sat the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test, to cross-qualify as a solicitor.
When did you qualify?
I was called to the Bar in 2000 and admitted as a solicitor in 2003.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Both the challenges and variety that it offers. The legal work is invariably complex and testing and combines with business development and business management. It also affords plenty of human interaction, as well as the opportunity to help others.
Describe your typical working day? Wake up and bedtime times?
Happily, my days tend not to be too typical. However, I do like to get a good start and so often get up around 6:00am. I might go for a run or bike ride, before breakfasting and starting the working day. I tend to wrap up around 6:00pm and try to avoid working beyond 9:00pm.
During the working day I may be at my desk reviewing documentary evidence, drafting correspondence or negotiating by telephone. Alternatively, I may be out of the office meeting with clients or other professionals, attending at court, conferences or mediations.
The great benefit of working for myself (which I had not fully anticipated) is the freedom it has given me to work when, where and how I choose. While that freedom is sometimes notional, it is nevertheless incredibly liberating!
What is the hardest part of your job?
Trying to keep all the plates – fee earning and non-fee earning – spinning. It requires good organisational skills, an ability to prioritise and a reliable support team.
What is the most memorable case you have worked on?
Lots of cases stick in the mind for different reasons. One of the most tragic involved the death of a toddler, who had squeezed through a glass barrier and fallen from a mezzanine floor. A professional negligence claim was later made by the child’s parents against (amongst others) the health and safety consultants retained to audit the building.
What is the most embarrassing thing to have happened to you as a lawyer?
Thankfully, and perhaps by good fortune, I haven’t found myself in too many embarrassing situations. I did once ‘cc’ an email to an insurance broker with the same name as the intended recipient, who was an employee of the client. While the email was relatively innocuous, the client’s managing director was not amused and I was left a little red-faced. It hasn’t happened again!
What would your clients say about you?
According to the legal directories, clients have praised me for my ‘superb eye for detail and commercial mind’ and for ‘always thinking one step ahead’. Others have said I am ‘very pleasant, patient and understanding’ and that I am ‘fantastic’. When you’re pulling out all the stops to deliver the very best service you can for your clients, it’s heartening to receive such positive feedback.
And what would your competitors say about you?
It may depend on who they’re talking to! I’d certainly like to think there is a mutual professional respect and they might well say that I’m ‘definitely one to watch’.
What have you found to be the greatest myth about being a lawyer?
That all lawyers are well-remunerated! Of course, these things are relative, but before entering the profession my impression was that on average lawyers earned far more than many (now) do.
What advice would you give to your pre-law school self? Why is that?
On Friday buy a single lottery ticket with the numbers 07, 18, 22, 36, 41 and 44. Why, because the jackpot the next day will be £87 million and you alone will win – 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Do you have any tips for handling difficult clients?
Yes. First try to listen to them, then seek to understand them and finally do all that you can to deliver for them. If that doesn’t work, part company.
What’s the longest day you’ve ever done?
About 20 hours straight, but thankfully those sorts of hours are a rarity.
The view from Jonathan’s office window
Do you have any advice for lawyers just starting out?
Yes, lots. But generally: the more you invest in your career, the more you are likely to get out of it. Much the same as life!
What has been your worst day in the job?
Dealing with an egotistical, senior colleague who tried to undermine and embarrass me. Thankfully, the attempt backfired, but in some respects that only made matters worse. Oh, the joys of office politics!
What has been your best?
Happily, the goods days have by far outweighed the bad. New instructions, great case results and positive client feedback all rank highly.
What do you consider to be the secret to your success?
I don’t think I possess any secret formula. Hard work, perseverance and self-belief would all go in the mix.
Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?
No. Aside from a few childhood whims, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. The possibility of being a lawyer surfaced in my early teens, as it probably does for a lot of people. But it was only later, when I took law as an A-level, that I realised that it was for me.
What would you say is the best tool you have at your disposal?
Which key skill is most essential for your success as a lawyer?
I don’t think I could narrow my own success down to a single key skill. In fact, I’d say that the success I’ve had to date is as a consequence of having been able to develop and hone a wide range of different skills.
Which experiences have been most significant in forming you as a lawyer?
Probably those that came from working alongside more senior colleagues as a junior solicitor. Like childhood, I think the early years are very important and there is a lot to be said for finding a good mentor.
Who is the lawyer you most admire and why?
Without hesitation, Angus Turner at Mills & Reeve. I had the pleasure of working with Angus for 4 years and he is the only solicitor I’ve met who ticks every box: charismatic, perceptive, supportive, inclusive, intelligent, committed; and the list goes on. Obviously, he’s paid me handsomely to say such nice things!
What makes a brilliant lawyer?
I think this depends on the context and the role the lawyer is expected to fulfil. An in-house planning lawyer working for a local authority is likely to require a different skill set to, say, a litigation lawyer at a magic circle firm. Both may be brilliant in their own way. That’s one of the great things about a career in law: the diversity of opportunity.
What would you say is your greatest achievement?
Teaching my Springer Spaniel to walk to heel!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully still living in Yorkshire and making the most of all the wonderful experiences life in this part of the world has to offer.
What do you do to keep healthy? What are your habits regarding exercise and nutrition?
I think exercise is hugely important for both physical and mental wellbeing and I do try and take strenuous exercise twice a week, be it running, mountain biking or tennis. However, some weeks I’m more successful than others! A balanced diet is equally important.
Which book have you found most influential?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R Covey. It’s well-written, insightful and I’d thoroughly recommend it.
Who do you admire most and why?
I’ve never really had a hero. There are so many amazing people in the world, past and present, famous and not so famous, who have achieved such great things. I would genuinely struggle to pick one.
What 3 things would you take with you on a desert island?
A smart-phone, fishing rod and plenty of waterproof matches.
How do you think practising law has changed you as a person?
I think it’s had positive and negative effects. Time is a prime example. On the one hand I’ve come to value my personal time so much more and become more efficient in the way that I spend it. However, on the other, I’ve become much less patient and I find sitting around a struggle.
If money was no object, how would you spend your time? And would you still be a lawyer?
If money was no object, I’d like to think I would dedicate my time to more charitable endeavours, helping those that really need it. There are so many good causes out there.
What is the step/change you are most glad you’ve taken in life?
Both personally and professionally, setting up my own business in conjunction with becoming a self-employed consultant at Keystone. It really is ‘law set free’. It’s given me the opportunity to meet so many new people and I’ve been quite taken back by how encouraging, helpful and supportive everyone has been.
While I don’t work any less than I did at a traditional firm, I do find the flexibility that I now have – to work when, where and how I choose – means that I have been able to improve my work/life balance and also see more of my family.
I really couldn’t recommend it highly enough and I would be happy to talk to others (confidentially, of course) who may be interested in making the move.
How do you balance home and family life with your job?
It’s an ongoing challenge, but one that I’m getting better at. Unless I really need to, I try to resist the temptation to work (too much) at weekends. I also find that getting away as a family, either for a weekend or on holiday, can be a good way of redressing the balance.
What is the most beautiful/inspiring thing you’ve ever seen?
The sheer power of human kindness.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘lawyer’?
What is the best lawyer joke you’ve heard?
On his death bed a wealthy old man hands £1 million in cash to each to his priest, doctor and lawyer, asking them to put it in his coffin after his death, so that his money would be buried with him.
Some weeks later and while attending the funeral, the lawyer asks the priest and the doctor if they made good on their promises. Both looked sheepish, before conceding that after much soul-searching they had decided to make small deductions for the good of the church and the hospital respectively. Having overcome their embarrassment, both then looked sternly at the lawyer and asked in unison if he had done his duty. Looking them both squarely in the eye and, with a slight, wry smile, he said ‘Absolutely, I wrote him a cheque for the full amount!’
Thank you very much for your time, Jonathan.
To find out more about Jonathan and his work through PNC Legal, visit the PNC Legal website.