Paul Matthews - director in the commercial litigation/dispute resolution group and head of the Regulatory team at Cobbetts in Leeds
What is your role at Cobbetts?
I'm a director in the commercial litigation/dispute resolution group and head up the regulatory team. I advise and represent corporate clients and senior managers in respect of regulatory investigations and prosecutions. We also advise businesses on areas of risk management and regulatory compliance, e.g. bribery and money laundering. I am also responsible for developing the regulatory team and our regulatory service offering nationally.
Why did you choose a career in law?
I'd love to say I was inspired by LA Law or Ally McBeal (for those of you who can remember them) but I just followed the usual law degree / law school / training contract route. I did A-Level law and a law degree and really enjoyed studying the academic / technical aspects of the law. I didn't ever really consider alternative careers. I met DLA while I was at Uni - it sponsored some of our law school events and I secured a training contract with the firm in my second year. I went into regulatory because in my opinion it's probably the most "legal" of the practice areas and fits with my enjoyment of technical law.
What's the best thing about your job?
In regulatory you get to meet, help and advise a variety of clients. You also deal with all types of personalities. In any given day, you could be advising the chief exec of an international plc business or your every day man on the street/sole trader. Regulatory work covers the whole range of legal issues and you also get to meet a lot of different people. I think it takes a certain skill to relate to and communicate with people on all different wavelengths and it suits my personality. The work itself - and the issues which we deal with - are also hugely varied. I meet a lot of interesting characters and it can be very entertaining at times.
What keeps you working at Cobbetts?
I've been at Cobbetts since June 2011. I like the firm and the people I work with. There are some really good characters and the wider team that I'm in has some excellent lawyers and interesting personalities. I see a great deal of potential for development in my particular area and it feels like quite an interesting and exciting time generally to be here. I get a lot of autonomy but support when needed, to develop the regulatory team which gives me confidence and makes the job all the more enjoyable.
What's the most interesting case you have dealt with?
With regulatory work, people often assume that the best or most interesting cases are the serious accidents, or those involving high profile clients like footballers. I personally find some of the more off the wall cases that we deal with most interesting - especially when they throw up unfamiliar concepts or turn seemingly trivial issues into really important ones for the client. I've recently dealt with a case involving bats in a listed building of all things. It wasn't high profile or urgent but it turned out to be very interesting work - especially given how much "bat law" there was to get to grips with!
Where do you see your firm in five to ten years?
Given that we are working in what are proving to be the most difficult economic times in modern history, I don't think many people could say with any certainty where their firm will be in three years, never mind five to ten years. I think that given the increased merger activity in the market it wouldn't be surprising if we merged - both nationally and internationally - given the growing focus on international work. I also think the Cobbetts name and brand will still be in the market. It'll be an interesting next five years though that's for certain!
What would you have been if you weren't a lawyer?
Although I never really considered another profession my favourite subject at school was geography. Even now I love the outdoors and am fascinated by volcanoes and earthquakes. If I wasn't a lawyer I would have loved to have been a volcanologist, getting up and close personal to volcanoes somewhere exotic like Indonesia or Hawaii.
What would you advise lawyers beginning their legal career today?
I'd say it's really tough at the moment and all the best of luck to them. The calibre of new entrants to the profession is scarily high. Excellent academics always have been and always will be a given. However, what really stands out are the extra-curricular activities and evidence of life skills. Clients invest in you as a person as well as the technical ability you bring so evidence of a good personality, ambition, drive, motivation and leadership are really important. I would say that anything which demonstrates you have more to you than the norm will help you stand out for example adventure sports, travelling, leadership/personality skills, or the ability to influence people.
I think this keeps you rounded and grounded which is what most firms and their clients look for. It also helps you keep things in perspective. I was scuba diving a few years ago and my dive buddy nearly died underwater. The whole experience really un-nerved me, but the way I handled it made me stronger and made me realise anything you face at work, whether your client tears a strip off you, or a judge decides against you, isn't necessarily a life or death issue. These experiences help bring a personal element to your work and client dealings.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges/opportunities over the next 12 months?
The next 12 months are likely to be the most interesting which I've experienced throughout my legal career. There is a lot of merger activity going on and the market recognises that there are probably too many lawyers and too many law firms. Firms are likely to look to consolidate - we may even go down the accountancy firm model and have a few international "mega-firms" and then lots of smaller niche practices. Those that don't accept the market is changing drastically and make changes may get left behind. Firms really need to focus on defining what sort of firm they want to be and what their position in the market is.
I think we'll also see certain firms teaming up with other service providers in light of the Legal Services Act but I think the market is still going to be driven by where clients want to go for their legal service needs and I personally don't think a "one stop shop" approach to buying legal services will ever come in.