Hello and welcome to the Career Success podcast. I'm Jason Connolly. If you knew listener thanks very much for joining us on the show, but if you are a regular listener it's great to have you back in this series. We speak to leaders in the world of business and people have had tremendous career success. We speak to people all across the globe across a wide range of industries. We lead the way in conversation to understand what makes someone successful. Listen to their stories of rising to the top, the challenges they overcome, adversity faced and what success means to them. We will also discuss the lessons learned. Along the way, myself and my guest will give practical advice on how to grow your business and climb the career ladder. If you're someone that has a passion for business, then this is the podcast for you. In this episodes, I'm delighted to be joined by Michael Byrne from Cardiff. Michael is the founder and chief executive of Carbon or Partners and national law firm. Throughout his career, Michael's work from Magic Circle firm, Allen and Overy, he was also a board director of 150 million at Turnover Financial Services business. Listed on a mad 32. In 2002, Michael started his own law firm, Carbon Door Partners, from Scratch in 2010 with no money, no clients, and as build over 1.5 million over the 1st two years in business, he's developed a really innovative law firm that is different. Michael has spoken at lectures, including notably do lectures in 2016 about his story and beliefs. The lectures had views of over 150 million Michael thanks for joining me on the show. Hi Jason, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me on. So first of all, tell us about your before we sort of get talking about carbon law partners and what you do today. Tell us about your journey into law because you've worked for one of the world's best law firms, which in itself is a career achievement. But tell us about your story from the beginning. So I guess I'm a fairly ordinary sort of bloke. I went to a comprehensive school in south London. I was the first University in my family. When I when I went off and I didn't know anyone in the law so I didn't really know my way around or have anyone to help give me a leg up. So I went off to University. I did a law degree. I went to Leicester, had an absolutely fantastic time there, loved it. I probably did what most people do. University. I didn't do very much work in the first year and I got the tap on the shoulder too often. If I was serious about doing a law degree anywhere, never mind at the University, did not make you Buck your ideas up, or will it did I went from about 190 four 1200 students in the first year to six in the second year and 1st in the third year. So they gave me a right kick up the backside and it really did the trick. I'm very grateful to them right? OK, and then you went and so tell us about your journey into law. So when I was at uni, are the milkround happened where law firms came to the law faculty and. And try to find promising students to give what used to be called Ben Articles these days called training contracts. And yeah, I was really lucky I got a gig with City Lofan then called Denton Hallberg in Warrens. There's a mouthful and I loved it there. I wondered in impressed by the glass lift thinking that an atrium was something that people like me didn't deserve to be associated with in their lobby and really feeling like I was on the set of a TV show that probably mostly listens to be too old to remember called LA Law. So I thought I'd arrive. Yeah, when I got to Denton Hall, Bergen and more and I think they're now called Dentons. Make a global firms and I had a fantastic training at the firm. Was very lucky qualified there, stayed there and then when I was a couple years years in I went for lunch with Katrina Smith who was the head of IP litigation intellectual property at Allen and Overy and I thought it was just a lunch. Came back and got a call to say we'd like you to come to Allen and Overy. Wow, so you know, given my background, blokes like me, don't don't say no to going to a magic circle global law firm when invited to do so, and I dutifully went and had a really fantastic couple years Allen and Overy, and got to practice law on a pretty big scale, even as a junior Reich. It was great work. Do you think it's Katrina? But you mentioned what was it she think about? She may be soaring you at the time, but. Mate, I want to reach out to you in that way. I know it's really difficult to say, but I think there was something about, I suppose hoping that you were bright, hoping that you were able hoping you were hard working, but hoping that there was a bit more to you than just the standard sort of pinstripe brogue wearing lawyer. And you know my background means that as I say, come from pretty ordinary, pretty ordinary family, pretty ordinary schooling background like the normal things in life, on the sort of regular person. No airs and graces. And we just got on over lunch. We really got on. I liked her a lot. I thought she was great. We sort of clicked and I think it was that you know it's so his relationships I think isn't it, Jason? It's like the relationships between people. You click with some people and maybe not with everybody. The way it's you know it's great to hear stories as as well when you hear people who haven't gone to an Oxbridge University. Kind of rising up the ranks, especially coming from a comprehensive school. I went to a comprehensive so I know that. But what did you learn from your time? Allen and Overy 'cause? It's a people in in legal. Everyone knows who they are. And I think I learned about the fundamentals of how to work with the team, how to work on world class legal services delivered by a fantastic law firm, kind of a scale of operation that was just knew to me. I mean, back in the day when I was there, I was very fortunate. Had an office overlooking St Pauls. It's now a shopping centre and Allen and Overy have moved. Not much new to Liverpool Street, but so so you know, I really am that old, but I learned I learned an awful lot about how to do things properly for world leading brands, and I think that was really fantastic experience. I guess if I was really honest with you, I also learned that I felt quite constrained by the way in which back then. And I'm talking in the late 90s. So along time ago, the way in which the things I wrote were amended and changed with. Red pen back then. It wasn't done with track changes and all kinds of modern technology. It was literally a red pen on her on a printed document that you may have drafted for a partner who you were working with and I found I didn't. I don't mind being corrected and I think we all need to learn. I've got a real passion for learning, but I always felt that I never got to give advice. It I can understand the need for accuracy, but it feels somewhat like a school group. So marking situation, it reminds me of something of a primary school. Yeah, it was a little a little bit like that and you know, of course, if you're a magic circle law firm with a global reputation, you don't want a two year qualified junior solicitor like me making mistakes because you know that's just not what your brand stands for, but there was something about I think it was. This is more a comment on me than it is on Allen and Overy. I wanted I realised I wanted to not advise clients. I realised I wanted to be a decision maker and I can remember coming to that realisation after doing a really exciting management buyout transaction that I wanted to not be the person advising on what the law was, I wanted to be the person deciding what to do with the law as a tool, right there. Speaking to the decision maker and the someone owner managed business or going straight to the person who holds the purse strings. Well, I can remember telling my dad when I was that I decided voluntarily to leave Allen and Overy, and it's a bizarre story because that week Allen and Overy were in the headlines of the times that my dad had started to read for having the UK's first million pound partner. And so I remember ringing my dad and saying, Dad, I'm going to leave Allen and Overy and I'm going to go into industry 'cause I want to be a decision maker. My dad wasn't very convinced by my. On my move, I'm honest Jason. People like I don't walk away from firms like that. Do you 'cause I? I always think that the type of lawyer that you get and I am speaking in really general terms so you know no offence intended. But I always think that when you go to the West End and you see West End firms, the kind of vibrant CD exposure people get at the junior level. As a lawyer, the kind of contact they get with businesses. It's very different and the type of the candidate, even the way that candidates I think of a lot more dynamic in firms like the Western. I think junior lawyers, they get trained in stuff. You know, in terms of business that you might not get, you know, a large practice. I think there's quite a difference between and. I think that mindset that you summed up is that a mindset that you often see it firms like that you know. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is, do you think there's a big difference between this sort candidates in the West End and the city? And so on. And your thoughts about that. Yeah, I think I think that's right, Jason. I think there's very much a horses for courses way of thinking about not just law, but any industry. So some people suit certain environments better than others and you go to one play-through. Different experience to another place, so you can't fault the Magic circle law firm with the pedigree of Allen and Overy an. I got an enormous amount out of being there and don't get me wrong after I left it didn't have help to open doors to say I was at an an ovary so it has an enormous amount of value, but I think in terms of the kind of my type of personality, I think I've learned since then that I would rather the cut and thrust of the world of the entrepreneur than I would. The world of the of the of the legal advisor to a blue chip. Citi financial banking institution. But you know, that's a different. It's a different mindset I think. Yeah, I'm inclined to agree with you definitely. So you're sometimes your buyout, which I found it did make me smile. I'm sometimes described as disruptive in a maverick or rebel with A cause. All unfair as I'm just asking why about many of the things in the legal profession to tell us more about that. Rebel with A cause. Well it in my mind the way in which law firms as a generalisation and it's a sweeping generalisation. Many running law firms shaking their fists if they ever listen to this, but in as a generalisation, I think the business model operated by law firms is fundamentally broken, and I think it's broken because it doesn't suit lawyers, and it doesn't suit clients. And much of my career actually has been spent being a client. A buyer of legal services as opposed to a lawyer who. In there I use The Dirty word. It's a seller of legal services, so being a poacher gamekeeper means I suppose I've got a perspective on both sides of the line. Of you know what it means to be a consumer of legal services, and it struck me that the model that I'm talking predominantly about not just the partnership model but the pyramid structure of a law firm was wrong. That's interesting. So did you spend you spend time in house? Yeah, OK, and I think the people that don't know the sort of necessarily the difference in House is working for a company as a lawyer and there are distinct differences in the whole kind of mindset in the general actual Job Bowl itself.
It's your advising on business. Michael yeah, absolutely. And when I left Allen and Overy I went to Footsie listed business called Saint James's Place, which is a wealth management company. Very well known, very well known exactly so, although when I told my dad I was leaving Allen and Overy to go to Saint James's place, he said Saint James is who? Because he had heard of them back then. We're talking late late 90s and they'd only just reverted into a listing on the Stock Exchange. So it, you know, very kind of heard of them then he certainly would have heard of them now. And so yeah, I went into industry, and as a lawyer inside a company you get exposure to commercial decision making and at quite a young age you're really privileged. Actually, I think because you can be spending quite a lot of time with directors and decision makers and that really really started to shape a lot of my thinking about. What I wanted to do, but also it gave me a model for a law firm. Yeah, an identity. Really interesting just to sort of sidestep a podcast about this the other day of being an in house lawyer, and even at a junior level you're walking in and you know you're dealing with directors. It's about how you hold yourself in these positions, 'cause you might in turn be quite junior sometimes it's you know who do you go to is a lawyer. You know it's it can be a different world from that being in private practice absolutely. I mean, I was very fortunate there was a legal director. Saint James's place back then. He was ex Herbert Smith. He was very qualified, very capable. He'd been there a number of years. He recruited me. I joined his team. You know, I learned. I learned my craft. If you like in-house through working closely with him as well as the other board members, and I learned about the industry as well because I didn't know one end of a pension or a life insurance policy from the other. When I went to this business. So there was a lot to learn, a lot to take in. And again, I was very fortunate. I've got a really good schooling there, and it's really great. Rounding, but it also gave me this idea that I've come back to in the time that followed, I saw the business model that they operated there and then that has really stuck with me and that as part I suppose of the of why I think some would say I was a bit maverick and I would say that I was just finding a better way to do something from another sector that already does it that way, which I don't think is that traffic really is it? It's just a readable, I think legalising. So what you mean is a consultancy model. So people. Traditionally, in an old fashioned way, eat what you kill, but now we call it a consultancy model fee split model. So and that's the model you're talking about, yeah it well it is in part, so by what we have set out to do in our business is to crab and law partners. Let's just bring this back to the current day and that's what you set up in with no money. And this is this is the innovative model that you've set up just to kind of paint the picture. Yeah, absolutely. So the business is run on a platform. And actually the platform can be used by multiple businesses, not just One South, to demonstrate it's versatility. We created a feature Model Law firm, and that's what you said. Cool carbon law partners. But in September this year, we launched a second branded proposition, so someone else is running a law firm using the same platform as carbon, more partners. And so now what we've ended up with, and we intend to continue to grow is not just Carbon ell partners, which I'm. Really passionate about because it's the firm I started. And it's now developing with a range of partners across the country, all on a feature model. So that's a fairly well trodden path. I don't think there's anything hugely innovative and disruptive about that. That's something that's happening a lot now, and there are some really major players doing that. In the UK, the app services market, the bit that's different to me is what we actually set out to do. Wasn't just to do that, we set out to do more than that, and to build a platform on which you could build multiple brands in legal services, and ultimately multiple brands. In other professions as well. Really interesting and and was that to kind of encapsulate having kind of more niche businesses that specialise in certain areas. Yes in part, but what it was to do is to recognise my sort of fairly bold assertion that the way law works as a profession is broken and that what you need a new business models to bring you thinking. So for example, if you're thinking about whether you want to become a partner in a law firm and. Buy into that equity with the bank loan that you probably will need to do it. Do you want to do that or do you want to back yourself to start your own law firm? And how do you cope with the cost? The fear, the risk, the anxiety of starting a law firm, and does that option feel close to you? So I'm on a bit of a mission to grow law firms for people to put their brands on and to be able to create an environment for lawyers to create their own future destiny and never more so now than in these really remarkable covid times. Yeah, it's what, why? Why do you think that was broken? But what's broken about the pyramid model? What's broken to me is that you effectively have three tiers in the pyramid. At the bottom you have the aspires, the young lawyers coming in, doing their training contracts, qualifying, becoming associate's, working their way up the pyramid. And if you're being unfair to them, they're not just aspire as they perspire as they work very hard indeed, and they get paid about 30% of what they built. That's the typical law firm model that the lawyer gets a third, the overheads get a third, and the partners get a third. So that model to me there's there are lots of important things about it, but one of them is that it's it's not a fair remuneration model for the risks that are taken, because when you do then get up to the next level above the Aspira level, you get into the partnership and you get into equity. You have to borrow money if you're not independently wealthy to pay. Sometimes A6 figure number to buy into the equity of a law firm. And your money sits at risk in the law firm. And if the law firm struggles, you don't get it back and you still owe the bank. Yeah, it's you very much preaching to the converted here. I totally agree with what you're saying. I think that the whole partnership LLP model has problems riddled all over it. I think that how can you have a partnership of equals when nothing is necessarily equal? And then this is where we place a lot of partners. We get people come to us. For example, the employment partners unhappy because that passing will work to the commercial partner there receiving back and then all of a sudden you get these internal bureaucracy or these internal politics that happen which make it difficult, which I think is why so many of these a BS is that have started up and done so well because of the changing model. Well indeed. And if you survive through the partnership structure to the top of the pyramid, that's where you become an older, wiser member of the partnership but something. I think quite surprising happens then be 'cause there's only a limited amount of equity in a law firm. They need you at senior level to leave and retire so you sign up to a date when you're going to leave. When you become a partner because there's an agreement about what that age is, you know is it 60? What is the age and so many law firms, not just in the UK market across the world struggle with what happens to senior lawyers in the five years before retirement, because there's suddenly going to be disenfranchised. They're walking towards what they feel might be a Cliff edge. Because there's nothing for them to do after that age, and they have to move on or have a massive demotion from partner all the way back down to consultant. And yet they've actually helped to build this business, and they've even invested money that they've borrowed from a bank to do it it. That's why I like this broken to get to that level in itself to then get there, to have to raise the capital, to put into, then see if it aids you. 10 years of slog before you even get to that point, potentially it's. At least I mean back when I first started out, some people made it to partnership in seven or eight years. Now it can be 15 of perspiring to get to the equity. Then you take the bank loan. Then you hope that the firm is going to continue to grow. And if you think about a normal investment base and you take some money and you invest it and you expect to return. What you doing that actually in a law firm in a traditional model where you buy into the equity and it's not real equity, like the sort of activities on a Stock Exchange you buying with alone, but you don't get any return on capital, you just get an income. You buy the right to an income over a period of years and then when you come to leave at a date where you may not be, let's face it. it. 60 these days as young right? Yeah, it is. Who wants to stop. So one of the things that we've done is to create a different way of looking. That the pyramid completely. So we think there's appointments even exist in your world. Well, not, not not in our world, no I can. It's a it's a level playing field when I basically it's a 70% feature, not a 30% feature. You have the opportunity but not the obligation to buy real equity. So you can buy real shares in our company and who knows, one day we may float in. There may be an exit and therefore there may be a multiple return on your capital investment. We've also then said when it comes to retirement, we don't believe in retirement. We believe that lawyers should be able to work until they want to stop, and the only thing that otherwise would make them stop is they become incompetent. Yeah, and when they come to that point where they say look enough is enough, we think they've got something of value. They've got a client base that they will have served, hopefully, and for many years and built relationships through serving that client base so they're not transactional. Well, that's gotta value that client base, and I thought it does. I learn it back at Saint James's place where they have something called practice buyout where young financial advisors are supported to buy the practices of older retiring financial advisors. Yeah, I. I've known about this and this scheme that you offer, and I think it's a great scheme, and it also let someone know that for all their years of hard work, they're not going to get to like you. Kind of alluded to or mentioned earlier, they're going to get to a certain age and then that's it. It's gone. It's swallowed into the firm. And I think it's yeah, I think it's it's a great scheme and it it gives someone you know a nice time and in itself. But it shouldn't. Yeah exactly. It gives you a capital play, but I think there's something it gives lawyers that's really important to lawyers in my experience of them. It's a small word, but it's an important word, and that word is control. So yeah, if you think right now, we're in this strange world where how many of us genuinely feeling control of what's happening with this virus that we're living with and law firms have been changing their shape, adapting actually remarkably quickly. And I would argue that some of them have done five years of evolution in five months. To change the way that they are structured and how they work and operate, but that that control. So if you're a lawyer sitting there, do you know whether or not you've got a job? It's a good. It's a good question and yeah, and who's in control of your fate, your career? So what we want to do is to say to people you should take back control. So like, yeah, you should. You should have control of your destiny of when you work where you work, how you work, who you work for. What you charge and when you want to retire and when you do want to retire then you should be able to take any capital value in your client base that exists. There's no guarantee it will be there, it depends what you do and who you are, but if there is some, it should be yours and you should even be able to bring in someone to run your practice and just take an income from it so you don't actually stop. You don't stop earning from the business that you built. Why would you do that? It's it's a really great scheme to hear about, and I think that. It what you said before you. Normally you're not in control of your destiny. Many people at the moment or in the mercy of you know a partner's hand in hand. How able they are to lead the Department through the current pandemic and what we've seen it. We've seen you know some firms acting, but you know if you're acting emotionally and you're not acting rationally, your loads of people let conveyances go. Oh, there we go all of a sudden the the stamp duty. Now we need to hire them all again so you know. You see it time, time and time again, but you know, I do agree with you. I think the legal profession has acted really quickly and it's it may be the reason. It's about five months done five years of evolution in five months is because it was so slow moving previously who knows. So tell us in terms of I guess one bit of advice. I always give to Junie Loison. Please tell me and expand on this. If you do agree is always a junior Louise now and I think you've hit the nail on the head when you spoke about. Kind of going up that that those runs of the ladder and how long it can take. I would say the best bit of advice is start trying to build a client base as soon as you possibly 'cause then you know your destiny is very much in your own hands and you know don't be the person who gets to 7, eight years PQE and you've got no client relationships because it's all driven by the partner and your workhorse for the partner. Start trying to get clients early on, but you agree with that definitely and it's interesting. Back in back in my day when I was a young lawyer we had this phrase that was used to kind of segment us and you were a Finder.
Reminder, a grinder or a binder. So. Reminder is sort of got a bit of a ronseal testing going on here. A Finder is someone who finds clients get a minder is someone who looks after clients are grind there is somebody does loads of the actual work, and a binder is someone who helps make teams and the argument was that you you naturally were stronger in one of those areas than you were in all of the others. Now I actually when I think about that, think that's absolutely bonkers. Because lawyers. Are in the relationship business a law firm does not have a relationship with a client to humans. Have a relationship with each other and they both happen to work inside a brand. So your client might be. I don't know Caterpillar and the law firm might be Allen and Overy, but Caterpillar and Allen and Overy don't have a relationship. It's Fred and Sally who work at the two businesses that have got a relationship. Now who is Fred and who is Sally? Well, there are two people and people are different. And they like different things, and they buy different things from different places, so I think there's space for what used to unfairly be called a grinder. The sort of person who does all the legal works. A bit technical. You want to keep them in a dark room. Never let them see the client. What about the client that likes the detail? It's yeah, I think you make a very valid sales points, but I think it is about that well. It's I I like to think I'm sales expert, but you know, when you strip it back, it sounds like basics but so many people get it wrong. What the client wants is what you give them well and again, this is where I think there's actually historically quite a lot of arrogant, so the legal professional says we build and structure law firms to suit lawyers, not to suit clients. Well, obviously that's the wrong way around. We should be doing everything to suit clients.
Law firms say that they do that, but I really don't see them being client LED businesses. One of the things I've been passionate about is having been a client and bought legal services. I have only my own subjective view, but it's a view of what clients want to buy and what they want to buy is often not what law firms where. They don't even want to use the word cell. I mean, they're better. Now, let's be fair there. Better now, yes, but for me, I think we, I think in a funny old world. We've got a lawyer and a client to human beings. 11 They both need each other. One needs advice and the other needs to be paid for it. What do we need to do? We need to match them together, so let me not trivialise this too much. But aren't we just in the role of a dating agency? Finding the right matches of people for each other, owning a recruitment agency, I would save it. You've got exactly the right E force when it comes to winning business, and I think that a lot of people. And I think people who have maybe risen up the equity scale. People have this mindset, not necessarily in law, but in any industry. This is a client of the company. This is a client of the firm and its when people have that kind of mindset as well and see you know, the client has some kind of you know, object, the client. It's it's all driven by personal relationships within the services business with a services economy, but so many businesses do lose sight of that and that's how you know you find partners leaving your practice with massive whatever client base, because even if you hold them too restrictive covenants, the clients not going to say anyway. That and then that's where you find yourself in that territory. Well, it's interesting you've used the phrase there that I love the phrase restrictive covenant. So first of all I stripped. If yeah, I think that they're fundamentally Roman. If if a firm ever said you know, XY Zed PLC is our client, then I would ask them what they need restrictive covenants for with a single individual lawyer leaving them. I agree with you and I agree. The restriction for exactly and it's you know, we come across this time and time again when partners come to us and it's it's a relationship business and people must not lose sight of that. And I think to bring this back to the advice that we're giving to junior lawyers. It's build relationships. I think that's really valuable lesson. Then it's people, get, we get asked all the time. You know about questions, and that's always one of the first ones. What advice would you give to someone? Michael, that's. We get a lot of people who listen to this podcast too, or maybe starting out in their career that you know there are more at the junior end of the scale. Having been there, done there worked in-house. What advice would you give to people yourselves? Maybe starting out or you know a bit more junior and PQ, E12, three years, etc. I would give the same advice to anyone setting out to do anything. Find something that makes you feel passionate and do that because it's much easier to work every single day off and long hours if you're. Passionate about what you do now, if you're passionate about working for the world's leading investment banks, get yourself in a magic circle firm and you will be happy as Larry. If you really want to work with owner managed or knew startup or fast growth or tech businesses, go to affirm like that so you have to kind of try and get a feel for what drives your passion. So I think one of the most important things I would say to young lawyers or anyone starting out their career is workout. What motivates you, and I think increasingly we see in the younger generation and now I'm 50. I can call people the younger generation. I think we see in the younger generation people. Want to know what the purpose is? What is their purpose for themselves, and what is the purpose of their organisation? And I think firms that offer that clarity of purpose, mission, vision, what, why they are, what they are, where they're going, and why that's important that really motivates.
I think young lawyers so understand your passion and what drives you and find a firm that aligns to that, because then it's again packed to the dating game. It's a good match of the firm and the opportunity, or have to the. The young lawyer in the experience that they know they they crave and will thrive with, I think that's absolutely great advice. I think purpose it is important and you need to have a sense of fulfilment in what you do. That's what drives happiness is. Having that underlying passion. Just Lastly, what's the biggest lesson that you've learned since running a business? Well, multiple businesses. What's kind of your pinnacle listens, but you can share with us not to put him on the spot or anything. Well, one of the most important lessons I've learned. There's a kind of a bit of a line in the song that I don't get. I get knocked down, I get up again. So yeah, I I think in life you are going to face difficulty and adversity and it's about realising that success is not linear. It comes in fits and starts. It's like buses there will be 3 buses at once in the Lotus success and then you'll have a real problem or crisis. Life is not straightforward and success is not linear. So my learning is about developing resilience so that you can cope with what life chucks at you, and I think if you are following a purpose, you know what you're passionate about and you can cope with adversity, then you'll be alright in the end. And it's always. There's always for me that sense, and I say this to my own kids. Just do your best and you'll be alright in the end. And that's literally a simple kind of rationale for how to live your life. I think it is, but it's it's very, very true, and I think you know that's even advice in itself. Michael is being absolutely great talking to you. Thanks for the last 35 minutes. If people want to find out more about you and carbon door, where can they go to so you can find out a bit more about me on Twitter at MJ Burne or you can go and find out about us at carbonlawpartners.com and we're always very happy to have a chat with anybody. We love to talk. Fantastic, that's Michael Burne from Carbon Law Partners on Jason Connolly. This is the Career Success podcast until next time goodbye.