Eddie Powell is a partner with Fladgate LLP, a firm focused on partnerships with its clients and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay and Eddie focus on the firm’s accelerated agility, the relevance of armadillo racing to relationship building, and the ways in which the pandemic has emphasized the importance of mental health in the legal profession.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. Joining us this week is Eddie Powell from Fladgate in London. Eddie, thank you for joining us. We’re really happy to have you with us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm and what’s going on at the moment?
Eddie: I am a partner in Fladgate. Fladgate is a firm based in central London. The only office we have is in London. It’s in Covent Garden in the heart of London. It’s in a beautiful spot. Anyone who wanders by is welcome, to pop in. We have 300 lawyers and we cover all the sort of key commercial disciplines, including corporate real estate disputes.
And my practice, my team, we gave ourselves the title CSI, which doesn’t mean we look at dead bodies. It stands for commercial sports and IP. And we do a lot of IP work, which is where, you and I Lindsay, know each other. And we do a lot of commercial work and work the sports contract as well as tech work, data protection, which is a hot topic at the moment. So it’s a very wide practice, but that’s really where the firm is.
Lindsay: How are things at the moment?
Eddie: Well, things in the UK are trying to get back to normal, post-COVID. There’s a lot of uptake in people coming back to work in terms of transactions and deals. We saw a very, very high level of activity over the summer, which was actually unusually high. And it meant that certainly the first half of our financial year, which goes from April to September, was a very strong one.
Sort of like a large number of deals done, a large number of billable hours recorded. So we feel pretty strong, hopefully, that will continue. There’s always the specter of COVID for the lockdowns looming, you know, that’s always the possibility. But I think we go into this on the basis that everyone is a little bit more certain they can now survive working in a, working at home world, if they need to. And it doesn’t necessarily just stop business. So I think generally our outlook is pretty positive.
Lindsay: And how about the firm itself? Are you back in the office or is everybody still working from home? Is it a hybrid?
Eddie: It’s a hybrid where we, probably like most firms, we are not forcing anybody to do anything. We are encouraging people to come in for two days a week, and that is designed to allow teams to get other, a bit of internal networking, allow some meetings, internal partner meetings, for example, to happen. We had a firm social the other day where we all got together in a room and drank beer together, which was quite exciting.
And so everyone’s free to do the other three days from home or wherever they want. And it has to be said, even before the pandemic, we were moving to a much more agile model where we were working on the basis that people wouldn’t always work in the office. And they were much more likely to work from client sites, you know, on the move to try and be a bit more responsive to client needs.
So the COVID pandemic accelerated that process, but we were sort of fairly well set up for it. So I know there are a number of my partners who are desperate to stay in the office as much as they can to get away from their children where there are others like me who live outside London and want to have a quality of life outside who sort of grumble at having to get on a train in the morning. But it’s a nice balance, two days a week. I think most people are going to be quite happy sticking with that.
One of the things that obviously this has made us look at is office space, which as you can imagine, in London is very expensive. So it’s made us look at the way we use our space. And I think we’re going to move to a much more, sort of like, hotel-style of working. I don’t know if we’ll be doing full-blown, hot desking, but it will be a much more, sort of fluid style. So you don’t necessarily have the same desk and we don’t just pay rent for an empty desk. So I think, yeah, it’s going to get embedded quite quickly. Which is, going to make 2022 really interesting, to see how it all goes.
Lindsay: I think especially for firms in cities like London, where real estate is such a premium, that will definitely be interesting to see how that works out. What do you think has been the impact on some of your clients in terms of meeting with them and visiting with them? I know London was one of the cities that was harder hit by COVID. So how are you seeing the travel return? Is that something you’re still doing mostly by virtual means or are you starting to get back to seeing them in person?
Eddie: I would say that at the moment, most discussions are still happening virtually and I don’t know whether it’s a UK thing, but video conferencing wasn’t that widely adopted, outside the big corporates using it for their own internal cons. It wasn’t actually widely adopted as a form of meeting until the pandemic. So again, I think that this has been an acceleration for us, of the ability to use the video conferencing techniques for day-to-day conversations. And I think one of the things I’ve noticed is that over the last two years, I think I’ve seen clients more than I ever did before because I’m actually talking to them and seeing their faces rather than just talking to them on the phone, which was 90% of the stuff I did.
So I had to say, I think it’s some real improvement because I get to talk to the client, I get to see their cat. They get to see my dog. I think that really helps with the personal relationship that we all want to build with clients. You’re not just dragging them into your office and serving them vile coffee, it really, I think, improves the situation that you can actually establish, you’re both dog owners, and you can spend a large chunk of the time that you were meant to be talking about work, talking about pets. I think it’s great. I’m sure it will go back to a lot more face-to-face and to a bit more the traveling at the moment.
I think people are realizing how much they can do efficiently from home and with maybe only having to get up and go out a couple of days a week rather than every day of the week to meet people. So I think it’s a change, I don’t think it’s going to necessarily jump back to the way it was, which for the UK, is probably a relief for our, a bit stressed public transport network.
Lindsay: I would agree with you. I think some sort of hybrid for everyone is not a bad thing. On the flip side of that, I was speaking to someone a couple of months ago and they said, for a lot of us as younger professionals, that’s one of the ways that we learned about other people and other cultures. So there is that learning process, at least early on in our careers where we got that sense of when we travel abroad.
But you point out building those personal relationships and getting that other side of people, which I totally agree with you, we’ve had that opportunity to do that. But there’s also that ability to do that when we visit someone’s office or when we travel abroad and we get a sense of the culture in other places. So I think that piece is also important to do as well. And we might be missing some of that, just staying at home.
Eddie: You’re absolutely right Lindsay. And I mean, you and I have met each other at The International Trade Mark Association annual meeting for many years. And that’s something I really miss because I think there’s more to bonding than just talking business. I mean, actually, I remember one memorable year, I went to Dallas and did armadillo racing, an experience that I would never, ever have had otherwise.
And that’s the thing, you can’t just talk to people and even talk about their pets. You have to go out and do armadillo racing with them. So that’s definitely something I miss. And I think another point you made, which is absolutely right, is that I wouldn’t describe myself these days as a young professional, I’m afraid. I think I’m probably pretty, getting on the crumbly side, but it is the young associates and junior partners who I feel, because I think they need to see the person, experience, they need the osmosis of listening to their colleagues. It’s an important part of the learning process.
That’s something that I think is definitely still to be worked out. How do you get the experience coming through, if you can’t actually easily rub shoulders with the gray hairs and so that they can sort of see, not what they do in a formal setting, but how they act in an office, how they deal with, a sort of quick client phone call. That’s an important thing that I think needs to be addressed. And I haven’t got a solution, apart from mounting a 12-hour video camera at my desk, which I think would be a real mistake, because we all know the stories of people not wearing trousers while they’re being interviewed. I hasten to add, I am now.
Lindsay: You make a good point and one that I think I’ve discussed with people on this podcast before, which is that you do have to be much more intentional about the interactions that you have with the younger lawyers because they are missing out on those sort of happenstance conversations that are happening.
The ability to see what the more senior lawyers and more experienced lawyers are doing, because they’re not getting grabbed into those conversations that are happening with clients, the opportunities that might happen because you’re sitting at home having those conversations and doing those things. And the question is, how do you train them? And as you say, I think there are no good answers for that.
Eddie: There are no good answers to that. Hopefully, the solution will gradually come. I mean we have a process here when you’re training to become a lawyer, you do two years, kind of learning on the job, you are called a trainee. And traditionally the trainee sits in with a partner or senior associates. They don’t just do the work, they listen to what’s going on, they experience what’s happening and that’s something that they’ve really missed.
So with the idea of everyone going in two days, the trainees, I think have to go in four days. What we’re trying to do, is to make sure that when the trainee comes in, there’s someone around, a senior person, and they go in and sit with that senior person. So that every day they’re in, they might be getting a different person, but they’re getting a senior person, so actually, it works well for them because they get lots of different experiences, not the same mistakes.
I think it was interesting that we’ve had our first qualified lawyers who qualified quite recently and they did virtually their entire training contract through lockdown. So yeah. But they seem to have come out of it okay. You know, they seem to be very good lawyers. So, hopefully, it won’t scar them too much. And it’ll all sort itself out.
Lindsay: My thought on that, is that you gain other skills. So obviously there are things that everyone has missed out on through the pandemic and the lockdowns, but you’re going to get adaptability and resilience and other things that are going to be useful in different ways as a lawyer. I’m sure that they’ll obviously have things that they need as lawyers, so I’m sure they’ll be fine.
Eddie: Sure they’ll be fine. I mean, apart from anything else, when you think of Generation Z, for example, they’re used to living their life on social media. You know doing stuff on emailing through video cameras, it’s, probably second nature to them far more than it is to someone of my generation, so, right. Hopefully, you could view it as progress. It’ll just be a different way of doing it, but no worse necessarily than before.
Lindsay: Right. And they may come up with new ideas based on that for how they’ll train the next generation, for one they’re in the position to do so. I’m excited to see how things progress and, similarly how they’ll then develop clients as they come into the position to do so as well.
Eddie: I’ve always thought one issue selling, far as a legal practice, is the unwillingness to sort of engage in social media, outside marketing. You know. I mean, as lawyers, we’re entirely used to emails as our almost sole tool, and you know, I have a daughter, who is now 21, and emails, she uses that for her shopping. She’s got no interest in having real communication through emails. And when she learns that I sort of have to sit chugging through an inbox of emails, she finds it hilarious. So, I’m sure lots of people listening to this are well ahead of this.
But we’ve just moved to Teams over the lockdown and I really like that, and I really can see how useful it is, for the chat functionality for the team working, I’m sure if you were to use any other products. I mean, Slack and those are great because actually they sort of encourage that idea and people could see what everyone else has written without endless, mad chains of emails which drive everyone so mad. That, I think is only a good thing. I hope it doesn’t get to the point where perhaps, like my daughter, she doesn’t want to talk to anybody, but I think we’re probably a long way from that I think, it’s too easy to convey information through chatting. So yeah, I think we’re fairly safe.
Lindsay: I think the benefit of that, especially for lawyers, and I know this is where I tend to use the written form more often than not, is that you like things written down because then there’s a record of it, so that’s always good.
Eddie: Yeah. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s breaking down. It’s a wave, we’re used to quite sort of formal communications, but nowadays people are using some of the stuff that’s written for informal communication. So you end up with sort of the horrors of emails that were sent to the wrong person coming out. And I’ve got some real war stories about that. But that would definitely make it not suitable for work, and it is a risk. To my mind, it’s a risk area. I mean, I’m sure the risk management people will be thinking about this sort of increased use of written communications through teams or slack and indeed emails is increasing the record or the possibility of misdirected communications.
So it brings a whole new set of challenges with it. You would’ve thought, I suppose, on the plus side, the lawyers, the idea of the old days of, written contracts being formed by phone calls should be say, let’s have a contract. So we should be rejoicing really. You think lawyers would be happy about everything being written down.
Lindsay: I know, but that’s just more that’s discoverable.
Eddie: Well, that’s that it’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? It’s a double edge sword, right.
Although, and I’ll tell you my other bane about it, is because we’re going back to… We talked about data protection earlier. We had this thing called data subject access requests where individuals can say, “I want to see all the virtual data you have on me.” And the trouble is, if everybody’s writing everything down, you can have a lot of what is, personal data. And I feel that it makes it a huge, huge job suddenly. From not just HR records, but people, for example, are performance managing someone through emails or through text messages. It gets horrendously complicated.
Lindsay: Oh, true, right, because you have to have all of the channels by which they might have written something down.
Eddie: And then you’ve got the device issues, how many mobile devices do you carry around?
Lindsay: Really just one. I mean, well two, I also carry my tablet.
Eddie: Right. I should have two mobile phones on me. Because the firm issues me with a phone and I have a personal phone because work won’t let you put any apps onto the phone. So that just takes all the fun out of it. So no one actually uses it. So you end up with two mobile phones and a tablet and a laptop.
Lindsay: Yeah. I’ve really paired it down, I use just three. I have my laptop, my mobile phone, and my tablet and that’s it.
Eddie: Well you’ve always been a master of Zen Lindsay. I can just imagine you sat on a rock, with your three devices in perfect harmony around you – the rest of us, just chargers and stands and everything.
Lindsay: Oh my gosh. Yeah. Or I’m just like too enmeshed in my work life. That’s the other option.
Eddie: The other funny thing I’ve found is, you know normally when someone goes on vacation, they sort of switch off. And one of the other things I’ve found is that because people are used to working at home, so they’re just used to working on their laptops wherever they are. Suddenly when they go away, you suddenly find they’re still giving you instructions. They’re still coming along, saying, “Yeah, I’ll join in the meeting, I’ll join in a zoom.” And you’re like, “Don’t you want to switch off? Don’t you want to talk to your family?”
And one of the things I’ve had to do is, we’ve had issues, like I’m sure everybody has, of staff accruing large amounts of their holiday entitlement, which they haven’t taken. And so we’ve had to sort of say to people, “Go on holiday.” I know in the US, this is less of a thing, but certainly over in Europe, it’s a big thing. And we are sort of saying, “Go, take weeks.” And one of the things I’ve had to do is to kind of say to them is, “Switch off, don’t do work.”
You know, one of the joys about if you’re working in a larger firm, is you’ve got a team around you, who will pick up work while you’re not there. And I think it’s really important to say to people, “Switch off, have the downtime, because you’ll come back in a much better, mental state, more ready to get back on the horse and get going again.” So it is, again, the sort of work and home life becoming so blurred. And I think one of the things that we have to do, and I view as a team leader, I have to sort of push this down is, switch off. Everyone should switch off and not feel that they’re just working the whole time. It’s a really important lesson for the staff.
Lindsay: It actually took the pandemic to teach me that, funny enough, because I had been doing that for 15 years, not switching off, including on vacations. And even though my previous Executive Director who, as you know, is also my dad, would always say, “Switch off.” I know, was my dad still is my dad, would always tell me the same thing you would say, switch off. And I finally started doing it. It’s very hard when you work from home to not check your emails at night, to not check them on the weekends when your laptop is right there and you could just sit down, and you think it’s going to be just a quick email. It’s never just a quick email.
Eddie: No, that’s the fatal thing isn’t it? It’s never a quick email because you start thinking, “I’ll just box this out.” And then you think, “Oh, hang on, I’ve got to check that point.” Or yeah, before you know it you’re an hour in and there are box sets of Netflix going unwatched, right?
Lindsay: Right, three, four hours on a weekend and you’re… That’s how I set aside my brain for a little while so that I come back refreshed and ready to do the new week or the same thing with the holiday time, which is also so important to refresh your mind so that you are a better professional at work.
Eddie: I definitely think there is nothing to beat, just having, say four clear days of not thinking about work. It really does help. And I’m not a great one for sort of mindfulness techniques and meditation. That’s not mine, I’m a bit more down to work, but I do notice that actually switching off properly and whatever you want to do, even if you’re staying at home and I’m painting the shed or something.
I mean, it sounds crazy, but something like that, actually just, I don’t know… It’s a bit like one of those cars that drive along, burning fuel, when they break, they charge a battery, and then the battery is used. I think it’s a bit like that. Because that sort of hybrid model, you need to sort of use the brakes occasionally to charge up the battery so that when you come back you’re ready to go even faster.
I think one of the things we noticed after the pandemic has been a stronger emphasis on mental health. Because, otherwise, people could work… It’s sort of like swallowing them up from all directions if they can no longer leave the desk, leave the office and go out. They’re caught by work and we’ve got to work hard. And I think certainly again, as a manager have to get that across. I know I mustn’t ask people to do this stuff at 8:00 in the evening, that’s just wrong.
And you know, that’s one of the things that Fladgate’s quite strong on the culture, is very much against doing that. And I’m sure every manager here will appreciate how hard it is to find good people, and that’s a free way of retaining staff. If you like them, just give them the time, let them have their time off and they will appreciate that. And I think they will stick with you. It’s such an easy thing to do, but it’s funny how often you hear of it not being done.
Lindsay: Yeah. And I know, especially here in the US we’re really not good at it.
Eddie: I hope that will change. I hope that the emphasis will change from scrutinizing billable hours by the minute to actually looking at a person’s career journey and what they bring to a firm and the value that they should be held in. And actually, certainly in the UK… You know, US firms have a reputation for creating burnout. I know of people who join US firms and they say, “I’m going to do two or three years. I’m going to earn a lot of money and then I’m going to leave.” And, great. But I do feel the US firms are missing a trick because they’re going to have a large turnover. Maybe that’s what they want. I don’t know. But it seems like an odd way to structure a business. It’s not one that I subscribe to anyway.
Lindsay: I agree. And I think it would behoove the legal profession in general. I agree to look, as you said, look at the whole lawyer and what they bring to the firm for many reasons. I think it would add a lot of value to the profession in general.
Eddie: I mean, lawyers have got a bad enough reputation as it is without us only driving ourselves into the ground. So at least we could look like if we’re going to be viewed by the rest of the world as money-grabbing ambulance chasers. We can at least look like we’re having fun while we do.
I think I’m one of the lucky ones. I kind of feel like I’ve got a pretty good hold on where I should be and having a work-life balance. And you know I said to you earlier, I’ve got dogs. And the one thing I can always do to switch off is take them for a walk or just, going to the garden, throw the ball. And that really, really makes me feel happy. And it makes me sort of relax very quickly, even in the rain, which I’ve had to do quite a lot.
Lindsay: I mean, you do live in England.
Eddie: Yeah, I do. Yeah. It’s part of the drill. When we see that sort of occasional big yellow thing in the sky, we obviously all fall around wondering what the hell’s going on, but yeah. But we’re used to a bit of rain and we get wet and it’s fine.
Lindsay: Right, so aside from all of this, what is one thing you’re enjoying right now, besides being outside with your dogs?
Eddie: Well, actually the one thing I’m really enjoying at the moment, on sort of the home side, I’m doing a lot of walking, hiking. I’ve had a sort of foot injury for the last year or so, and that’s just cleared up and I have a new dog who’s very energetic. So everything just moved into alignment so that I can get out hiking again, which I love.
So, luckily enough, I live out in the countryside. So 20 minutes drive takes me to some beautiful rolling countryside with a few hills and I go off and do, you know, two or three-hour hikes on a weekend. I find that really, really refreshing. So I’m just enjoying that at the moment. That’s lovely. Just getting back into hiking and being able to do it a bit more often, even in the rain.
Lindsay: That’s so wonderful. I love that, great. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it.
And thank you to everyone for tuning in and listening. We’ll be back next week with our next guest. And please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. And thank you so much.