We spoke to Matthew Dunne about why he chose to become a Consultant Lawyer at nexa law.
Welcome to nexa law, Matthew. Can you tell us a little bit about your legal career?
Sure! I qualified as a Solicitor in 2008 at a regional law firm in the South West. I spent the majority of my training contract working in a variety of litigation roles and knew fairly early on that I wanted to deal with disputes for a living. Qualifying in the midst of the financial crisis meant that I became involved in plenty of disputes involving banks and professional advisers. More by accident than by design I became focused almost exclusively on claimant professional negligence work.
How did your career progress?
I enjoyed my work, and the people I worked with, and managed to get myself promoted up through the ranks of my firm. I got involved with some really interesting and unusual projects including acting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Legal Complaints Service (now the Legal Ombudsman). But in 2012, I made the life-changing decision that I wanted to move to New Zealand! My firm were actually really supportive and offered me a one year sabbatical as it was never intended to be a permanent move.
What made you move to New Zealand?
A woman! Now my wife!
What happened when you came back?
As my job had been kept open for me, it made sense to go back to my old firm. But by 2013 a lot had changed and many of my colleagues had moved on to other firms. I didn’t feel quite at home in what seemed almost like a different firm, and I starting to become less and less happy with my role. I also felt that the type of work I wanted to do was falling out of favour. Too many commercial conflicts kept being raised by the non-contentious Partners, and the contingent nature of the fees in many high value professional negligence cases started to become less attractive to the firm.
So what did you do?
In 2015 I handed in my notice and started a veterinary marketing business – of course! It’s not totally illogical since my wife is a vet, but it wasn’t particularly well thought-out or planned. Nor was it easy, straightforward or without risk. But at the time I had become so jaded by life as a lawyer that I wanted to do anything else but practise law.
Over the course of a few years I managed to build a sustainable business which offers a range of really valuable services to vets. Something my law firm life had taught me was that having deep sector expertise can really help to strengthen relationships with clients. So a Solicitor doing marketing for vets’ practices might seem odd, but I’ve got as good a knowledge of the veterinary sector as anyone now.
How did you end up at nexa law?
Now in 2019, with my business going well but by no means taking all my time, I wanted to give law another try. I started a marketing business because it allowed me to exercise my creative side, but I also enjoy the intellectual challenge of law. I knew I didn’t want to go back to a traditional law firm and I knew from friends and colleagues that law firms are essentially all the same. I have worked for one law firm in my career to date, but I challenge those who have moved around to tell me that there are any fundamental differences between the firms they’ve worked at – unless you’ve worked for a new model law firm like nexa law! I knew that the way of working at a consultancy style law firm would suit me and I haven’t been disappointed.
Why did you choose nexa law?
To be honest, when I started looking at new model law firms I hadn’t even heard of nexa law. We probably all know the established brands in this sector as they’ve been around for a few years now. I made contact with a few and had mixed results – from no reply to some genuinely useful conversations. But I knew from my first conversation with nexa that it would be the right fit for me. For a start, I was able to make direct contact with the Managing Director, Eliot. It’s important to me that I don’t fire off an anonymous online form into the ether but rather know who’s going to be reading my message and know who is going to respond.
What was your first impression of nexa law?
I thought that nexa had a smart brand and a way of looking at a legal careers that resonated with me. My first conversation with Eliot revealed that nexa is a firm run by down to earth people who are easy to work with and want you to succeed. Eliot explained that nexa is best suited to entrepreneurial lawyers who can build their own client relationships and work autonomously without the need for an office network or huge support team (not to say that there isn’t support when needed). It appealed to me that nexa offer a best in class fee share and that they can do this because they run a lean business model. I’m not paying for things I don’t need and I’m not funding shareholder returns like those who work in those new model law firms that have now listed on the stock market. Isn’t that just the same as working to fund the drawings of a few equity partners?
How have you settled in now you’ve joined nexa?
Great! I knew I’d made the right decision to join nexa when I pitched a business development idea to Eliot on my induction day and he agreed to invest some resources into it on the spot. Can you imagine how many months of meetings would have been needed in a traditional law firm just to even get an idea on an agenda? Only then for it to be blocked by someone who feels undermined or someone who has an alternative agenda. Or have someone else pass your idea off as their own to get recognition or a promotion!
I’ve opened my first couple of files and quickly got to grips with the excellent IT system. I’ve started to get to know my fellow Consultants, notwithstanding that we are based all over the country and there’s already been work referred between us. It’s refreshing to be part of a law firm which has energy and dynamism and wants to grow not simply because it lines the pockets of the Partners, but because it gives more lawyers the opportunity to experience a better way to work.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about becoming a consultant lawyer?
I’d suggest contacting all the major players in the market – and I’d include nexa law in that – and see which firms has the right vibe for you. Some lawyers are so institutionalised that they need a traditional office environment and a secretary and a paralegal and all the rest. There are new model law firms which offer all of that, but I can’t really see how that’s much different to the traditional law firms out there. Ok, so you aren’t beholden to other Partners and your clients are your own, but you pay a high price (literally) to have all these services on tap.
If you think that a lean and dynamic law firm full of entrepreneurial minds is an environment which would suit you, get in touch with nexa. Or feel free to contact me direct and I’d be more than happy to share more about my experiences with nexa so far in person.