In celebration of our 40th Anniversary celebrations in 2019, we feature a Q&A with Michael Gillman, Consultant Solicitor and former Senior Partner and Head of the Family team at Bishop & Sewell to learn more about his early legal career, the lessons he has learned and the achievements he is most proud of.
What was Bishop & Sewell like when you first started at the firm?
I joined Bishop & Sewell 25 years ago when it was a small 4-partner firm with about 20 employees at 90 Great Russell Street. The firm was expanding cautiously, characterised by its supportive and paternalistic character.
Where did you get the drive for the business and what made you not give up on it?
Failure and not going on was never an option. Both Stephen and I had a determination to succeed with an appetite for hard work to achieve success.
What were some of the significant challenges you’ve had to overcome and how did you get past them?
There have been many challenges over the years with the ups and downs of the economy but in particular the challenges created by the onset of new technology, computerisation and digitisation of communications, but also the economic challenge placed by the recession caused in 2009 by the financial crisis. This was a tremendous hurdle which we overcame as a result of excellent financial management and a cautious approach to finances and in particular the reinvestment of the firm’s profits.
Is there any event that has drastically affected you in your journey, something that has had a big impact in your legal or business life?
As a young solicitor I was always told that law was a vocation and provided that you did an excellent job for the clients, a living and money would follow. Providing an excellent service for clients and putting their needs first has been the keystone of successful practice and the profession has had to become much more financially acute and aware over the last 40 years; the basic requirements for a solicitor to succeed still remain and if an excellent service is provided, profits and rewards will follow.
What have been some of the big successes of the last 40 years of Bishop & Sewell? What moments stand out to you? What are you most proud of?
The ongoing commercial success of Bishop& Sewell has in reality been its greatest success. Its ability to adapt to new situations and be flexible and make decisions quickly has been an ongoing success. It is difficult to pin any particular highlights, as there have been a huge number of very memorable moments, from watching an early morning sunrise in Portugal at a Strategy Meeting to walking down the steps of Westminster Hall with Big Ben chiming midnight and the firm’s 21st birthday party with diamonds provided by Cartier at the British Museum and on a number of occasions obtaining great results for clients in the face of adversity.
How do you see the progress of the company so far? Are you amazed, overwhelmed, did you think you would get this far? What are your future plans? What do you hope to achieve and how fast do you hope to achieve it?
This is a question for Stephen, but I am not sure that 25 years ago Stephen and I actually anticipated that the firm would have grown so substantially to become a top 250 firm in the country with a complement of over 100 people.
Who would you like to thank for your successful business?
My business partners but above all the wonderful staff at Bishop & Sewell.
Are there any valuable lessons learned that you could share? Is there anything you would do differently?
Take all the opportunities that are presented to you and don’t be frightened to challenge yourself to achieve potential that you didn’t know you had.
How has the legal profession changed over the last 40 years?
The legal profession has expanded enormously over the last 40 years and has had to become far more business-like and possibly less ‘professional’, but the underlying values of the solicitors’ profession have remained throughout. I hope it will continue to be there with a dedication for giving an excellent legal service and putting the clients’ needs first, hence the suggestion that the legal profession still remains a vocation, if you really want to succeed.
Has the client-lawyer relationship and dynamic changed significantly over the last 40 years?
The clients have become much less accepting and much more questioning of advice and quite rightly so, demanding of a better service and on occasions much more costs-conscious, so the relationship between solicitor and client has become, of necessity, much more commercial.
If you could change one thing in the law profession, what would it be?
The ability to be more reflective, enjoy a little more masterly in activity with time to reflect and do the job properly, rather than being forced to take everything at an absolute gallop. To go back to a period when the profession was rather more respected and perhaps less vilified by politicians and the press as, generally speaking, the legal profession is much misunderstood and is, in large part, devoted to providing an excellent service to its clients, but is not wholly motivated by money – as the press and politicians might have one believe.
What do you think is the most vital business challenge for the 21st Century?
One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century is keeping up the pace of change and finding new methods of service delivery and meeting the challenges caused by technology and other professions endeavouring to provide legal services in more imaginative and cost-efficient ways, competing for client services.
Where do you see Bishop & Sewell in ten years’ time (2029)?
I would like to see Bishop & Sewell as a profitable and vibrant law firm, well managed, financially secure and providing an excellent service to its clients, creating an environment in which clients want us to work for them and employees who want to work for us in a pleasant environment where everybody is properly rewarded.
You can view Michael’s profile here …