Janvi Patel is disrupting the UK legal sector with her game-changing, modern law firm
As the chairwoman and co-founder of award-winning law firm Halebury, Janvi developed her London-based business in order to provide top quality in-house lawyers on a flexible and affordable basis.
At the same time her company offers a credible and alternative career path for senior UK lawyers in the legal sector.
Today, Halebury is a multi-million pound law firm which is continuing to grow and also help reshape the future of law.
An employment lawyer by background and Janvi is also a committee member of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. In 2013, she was a winner of the Enterprising Women of the Year Award in the UK, won Red Magazine’s Red Women of the Year Award and was also nominated for the Asian Woman of the Year Award. In 2014, Janvi was nominated for the Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
Janvi splits her time between London and LA where she lives with her husband and three children.
‘Running a UK based business from LA is a challenge but I’ve adapted to it. I start my day at 4am and from then until 9:30am (close of business in London) I am flat out on emails, calls and all actions that need to be done by that day.‘ – Janvi Patel- Co-founder, Halebury, London.
Recently, Janvi took time out to tell Nativa World why she built her business, how she manages her transatlantic lifestyle and why she’s a passionate about supporting women entrepreneurs.
Janvi, what does the word ‘Achieve’ mean to you?
As a working mother of three young children, an employment lawyer by background, a co-founder and chairwoman of my own business and a strong believer in giving back, achievement has a very personal definition – and you can never stop achieving.
At Halebury, I would say that all our team are ‘achievers’. Lawyers at Halebury have all built successful careers and are at the stage where they can manage their own time and workload successfully around their own personal commitments, but they also spend time giving back to those in need, less fortunate and to the next generation. To me, that is achievement but it will mean much more on many levels for different people.
How did Halebury come to life?
Having spent many years working in a City law firm and as part of a global in-house legal team, a number of things became clear to my business partner and Halebury co-founder, Denise Nurse, and I: the legal services market needed a change. Essentially, there was a gap between the changing needs of businesses and in-house legal teams, the career expectations of many lawyers, and the delivery of services between the two. Technology, life expectations and corporate expectations have changed over the decades but the traditional law firm structure remained intact. It was time for a change.
We wanted to create a new kind of service, providing highly experienced in-house lawyers on a flexible and affordable basis and, at the same time, a credible alternative career path for senior lawyers, which ensured greater rewards for their efforts. It was around the 2008 financial crash that we decided to take the plunge and set up Halebury, one of the first companies to offer just that.
Due to this model, we now provide high level legal expertise to the likes of BskyB, Expedia and Virgin Media along with other tech and FS clients. Halebury is now a multi-million pound law firm which is continuing to grow.
How did you come to work with your co-founder Denise?
Denise and I met at our first day at Charles Russell and became exceptionally close friends. We have a great deal of respect for each other and our individual career aspirations; whether in TV, business or for our charitable causes. A friend of mine described our management of the business as “harmonious parenting” and it is really harmonious because we trust each other’s decisions. We have a similar decision making process and we tend to have the same gut feeling about things.
Our lawyers are men and women who often have a similar story to tell: after working in top city firms, they wanted a job which gave them more variety, control and flexibility but still of high caliber and that could offer them interesting work. We look for experience but also ambition and entrepreneurship – someone who has the drive to take their career into their own hands but also be a part of our team striving for success.
What have been your main challenges as a founder?
As most entrepreneurs will tell you, there are always people who will say no and close the door. If you have a plan and believe in your team and vision you have to stick to the path. Do not take no for an answer.
In our case, there were many obstacles in our way. From the lack of access to any funding, to limited access to our market place, to the fact that we were in our thirties starting families and as entrepreneurs, not entitled to statutory maternity leave – we had to sell our homes to fund the company and our lives. It was a lot.
It is hard to say what we would have done differently. The mistakes are all part of the journey. However, there are two rules I absolutely believe in. The first is summed up by Sara Blakely’s quote: “Hire people you like and trust (even if they don’t know a great deal about what you need them to do).” The smart person will always work it out, so surround yourself with smart people not those with the perfect CV. I do not believe that having the perfect check-list CV makes the best candidate. You need the right attitude and that attitude for us is about being personable, commercial and entrepreneurial. I have turned down candidates because I do not think they have the right “Halebury” attitude even if that has meant losing out on a project.
The second rule is know your finances. It is essential to understand the cost of your business, your margins and what you can and cannot afford. But overall know that cash is always king.
What’s unique about Halebury?
The alternative legal market is becoming very competitive and we are often asked about the difference between Halebury and the other alternative/NewLaw players. Although there are many differences, for example we do not have junior lawyers and we are a fully regulated law firm, there are two key points. For clients, they have access to senior, experienced ex in-house lawyers on a flexible long term basis – a continuity of support from someone who understands their business. For our lawyers, they are able to build up a client portfolio, and our management team are dedicated to supporting them in their efforts to generate work and to working with them on an individual basis to create a personalized career path. It is a simple differential but it is a game changer within the legal market.
We are very proud of the fact that we are a well-regarded and significant player among alternative/NewLaw businesses. Given our size and lack of backing from either a law firm or institutional investor unlike many of our competitors, this means a lot to us.
What lies ahead for Halebury?
We are just launching a new legal project management line this year again geared to support in-house legal teams and C-suite executives. We have a significant amount of legal project management experience within our team, but what sets us apart is that this has all been gained in-house by senior in-house counsel. This new line will further separate us from more traditional law firms.
How did you become involved in the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women?
Mentoring is a cause I am passionate about as it reaps numerous benefits for both the mentor and mentee and, particularly for women working in a male dominated industry, a role model can be indispensable. Mentoring helps you think outside of your zone and therefore makes you a better businessperson and a better manager and should form part of any leadership training.
I became involved in the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, mentoring committee when it first launched. It is such a great concept and organization. It matches women from developing countries with business people within corporations in the West. Most people think that mentoring is all about the mentees but I beg to differ. Mentees teach mentors a great deal; how to be entrepreneurs, to work against the odds and to think outside the box. Although there is a learning curve for both parties, in the end, it is a win-win for all involved.
What has been the most rewarding part of this role?
Halebury is still a young company, especially in comparison to the life span of most law firms, so there is much more to achieve and to be proud of. However, so far the most rewarding part has been to be able to renew and in some cases unleash an excitement in the law; for lawyers and for clients.
Who inspires you in business?
I look for inspiration all the time and don’t limit who I take it from. I find it from those who are considered famous to those who are not. I recently met Yasmeen Hassan from Equality Now and found her incredibly inspiring, on a professional and personal level. I also follow Shami Chakrabarti and think she is a force. In the “startup” world (profit and non-profit), there are also many people who I find inspiring from Jamie Olivier and the Food Revolution, John Bird who co-founded the Big Issue to Sara Blakely.
Their imagination, determination and drive are obviously a large part of what I find inspiring, but I am also inspired by their drive to give back; to take their platform and knowledge to help others and to support the next generation.
Do you maintain a good work/life balance?
Running a UK based business from LA is a challenge but I’ve adapted to it. I start my day at 4am and from then until 9:30am (close of business in London) I am flat out on emails, calls and all actions that need to be done by that day. I work until 2pm or 3pm after that, I then have time to work out, attend the children’s playdates and activities and spend time with my husband. I try to be in bed by around 9pm so that I can start again at 4am.
I travel to London every 4 or 5 weeks to catch up with the team, contacts and clients. During my London trips, I spend evenings catching up with old friends and family so I manage to keep a healthy balance between everything going on in my life.
What do you miss about LA when you are in London?
I moved to LA approximately 4 years ago because of my husband’s work. At the time, leaving London was incredibly hard not only because I had 3 kids under 3 but also because while in London I had a great support network of family, friends and a great nanny. We gave up all that comfort for the LA sunshine and the beach and the promise (by my husband) of good childcare – famous last words! It was not necessarily the most logical move considering the age of my children and the business. In all honesty we left 3 years too early.
Life has become easier, but leaving LA is always hard – the kids are usually in the car crying and after a few hugs I have to close the car door and go to the airport check-in counter. I manage them and the house remotely; excel and FaceTime are both godsends.
Although I now love LA, I still miss London: the energy, the culture and of course the shopping. I’m not a big shopper but the fashion is different and so while in London I tend to load up and although time is limited, I’m lucky to live on St John’s Wood High Street, so I do not have to go far to window shop, or shop if the sales are on (the high street has crazy pricing especially more so now I convert to dollar). I check out the shoes at Lariza and Regal Shoes and children’s clothes at Tiddlywinks, but I always go to Square One; the amazing owner is brilliant at helping me pick clothes that I can mix and match and that can work in both LA and London!
What makes a good mentor?
The importance of mentoring within the corporate world is widely discussed these days: by leadership and HR teams to assist with talent retention, to CEOs who see the monetary value of mentoring. A good mentor should provide guidance to their mentee – it is not their role to say whether a business succeeds or whether the mentee will make it to be the CEO of a FSTE 250 company. They need to guide, support and listen. In some cases, it is about being a sounding board and a voice of reason and motivation, especially during the tough times, as we all have those. Also do not worry if you do not know everything about the mentee’s marketplace. They can find facts and opinion on Google – they really want your thought process.
How are you involved with The Children of War Foundation charity?
I decided to become involved with this charity because they care for the most innocent victims of war and conflict, the children. It is heartbreaking to see and hear the destruction of war. I cannot imagine as a parent, living in LA with health care, having a child who needs care and being completely helpless. Just the thought of children living in fear and with such injuries brings tears to my eyes.
What I love about COWF is that they are a two-step process; they co-ordinate specialist doctors from the west to fly into areas of conflict or the best possible location to operate on children, but because of the level of specialism of the care, the doctors try to take the time to train the local medical professionals on the ground.
Janvi’s Travel Tips:
- I travel very light. We have created a system where we can login anywhere on any computer. So I travel with 2 phones (UK and US) and an iPad for movies and the internet. I don’t travel with laptops etc.
- I operate my household on a Google calendar – whether it includes school or work meetings – so it is easy see on my IPhone what I am doing day by day.
- I try to maintain my workouts. Maybe not the full session, but I try and fit in a few runs in during my trips.
- I try and eat healthily. It is not always possible, but I am becoming a bit Ella Woodward obsessed, so we have smoothies a lot and I am trying to cut out sugar (I have not succeeded yet).
- I also try and slot in either a massage, a manicure or a facial every few weeks. Travelling every 4/5 weeks, with jet lag and early wake ups can take its toll on your skin, body and sanity.
Janvi’s Startup Tips:
- Focus – Set your intention, be clear on it and then apply laser focus. It was when we reduced our intentions down to a one page business plan that we saw Halebury really grow rapidly. It gave us a clear path and stopped us taking on projects and people that would not serve our core objectives.
- Relationships are key – As a business owner it may feel natural to take on any and all jobs yourself, but to grow rapidly you need to assess where you need support and bring in a team with the right skills. Why not hire an experienced person even on an interim basis? They leave the new strategies and processes in place and remain on hand as external consultants to the business when complex issues arise. Like our clients who do this for legal services, we also use this model for services into our business for everything from finance and IT, to marketing.
- Make the most of technology – You are definitely missing a trick if you do not take full advantage of technological advances. We now have a wealth of data to capture, analyse and capitalise on. Social media is also an incredibly effective tool to connect with customers, get your voice heard and achieve fast recognition in a market.
- Rectify mistakes and learn from them – You will make mistakes along the way. Identify, rectify and learn from them, then move on. There is not a successful business out there that hasn’t made mistakes but those who survive are those who learn the lessons and re-focus.
- Enjoy the journey – Successful people are always driven to the next goal, but the journey is often more fun than the destination.
- Take time to look after your own wellbeing, as well as your team’s, during times of hard work and perseverance. Never forget to stop, breathe and congratulate yourself along the way. As Oprah Winfrey said ‘What I know is, is that if you do work that you love, and the work fulfils you, the rest will come’.
Photography courtesy of Janvi Patel