Nigel Shepherd, Partner, Mills & Reeve - Private Client Team of the Year Winner

Why did you choose a career in law?

I was doing banking exams at night school in my gap year with thoughts of following my late father into HR (or personnel as it was known then). Law was one of the subjects. The lecturer thought I had a flair for it and suggested I consider it as a degree/career choice. I thought why not and the rest, as they say , is history (or at least a very minor part of history!)

What attracted you to your particular specialism?

In my early days people didn’t tend to specialise as much in the smaller firms or offices. I chose litigation rather than conveyancing or probate and dealt with everything from crime through to commercial disputes. However, I always had an interest in family. What attracted me to it then and still does now is that it combines often complex legal issues with the challenge of helping people through what will be one of the most difficult times in their lives. There is direct client contact at every stage dealing with issues that really matter to people. Seeing them come out the other side of that is incredibly rewarding.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

it’s not really one thing. It’s the variety that makes it interesting and keeps me on my toes. I still enjoy that first client meeting where you strike up the professional relationship with the client, explore the options, apply the law to their personal situation and reassure them that there is someone there for them. I love advocacy (harking back to my days in the Magistrates Courts), although most of our cases settle, and sadly I like drafting! I’m also a bit of a media luvvy There’s nothing like being on your feet in court or in a studio for a live TV or radio appearance to make you feel alive. Preparation is of course crucial, but you can’t prepare for every eventuality and It’s the fact that you’re on your own and having to react on the spot to what comes your way that sets the pulse racing!

What particular challenges are you facing in these tougher times?

I’ve been practising for long enough to have seen three recessions, but the current one has been the game-changer. The way people access legal advice has changed for good. At Mills & Reeve we have responded by innovating, for example with flexible working arrangements, fixed pricing and ensuring through and our Sunday Times recommended  Divorce UK App for iPhone that clients have access to market-leading information that means they can target their spending on legal fess more effectively. We are also working on IT that will streamline the flow of information between us and clients to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Those who don’t adapt in the face of ABSs, the Co-Op and other developments will struggle to survive. We have to add value.

Where do you think the opportunities for growth will be for the legal profession in the next few years?

Dispute resolution services such as mediation and collaborative law will continue to attract a greater share of the family law market and rightly so in those cases where it’s suitable. In addition, making the best commercial use of the know-how that you have will become increasingly important.

Also, I have just qualified as a family law arbitrator being one of only 35 trained so far. This is a brand new dispute resolution option and I’m excited about what this can offer in terms of speed, choice and flexibility of procedure and process.

What’s been your most enjoyable recent piece of work?

I don’t think enjoyable is the word I’d necessarily use when considering what’s involved in  a family case, but certainly much of the work I’ve been doing recently has been interesting, challenging and professionally rewarding. I find the collaborative law process really positive for clients in the right kind of case and like the dynamics and flexibility of the process . I am dealing with some very high value litigation where the assets are over £100m, which involves all kinds of issues in relation to contributions, offshore assets, company valuation and tax. And I am currently working on a complex pre-marital agreement with trusts and multi-jurisdictional aspects. And we’re going to the Court of Appeal to clarify a point of law that’s of interest to the whole family law community. All good stuff.

What inspires you when it comes to your work?

The fact that you never quite know what the day will bring and working with colleagues who all share the same commitment to providing outstanding advice to our clients but who have a sense of perspective and fun as well. You need that in any walk of life.

Do you work by a particular mantra or motto in your business life?

Nothing ground-breaking. Act with honesty and integrity, do as you would be done by and don’t take yourself too seriously. You are not indispensable and without perspective you won’t be able to do the best by your clients and colleagues.

Can you give one piece of professional advice to your peers?

I wouldn’t be so presumptious! But I suppose it might be “refer cases to me please!” The advice I’ve given to the many young lawyers that have had to put up with me over the years is that you will make mistakes but, unlike if you’re a brain surgeon, no one will die. Just own up to them when they happen, learn from them and move on.