Family lawyer Anne Thomas lives in Horsham with her husband and two children, Freddy, 4 and Lilia who’s 16 months. Anne joined Setfords in August 2016 after 15 years working in traditional firms.
How does your day begin?
With two children under five it can be a very early start but I normally drop them at nursery at 8am. I then either head home to start work in my office or I could be going to court or to see a client. It very much depends.
What prompted you to become a consultant?
Looking after two young children and working in a traditional firm just became too much. I was dropping them off at two different nurseries and enduring a 20-mile drive to my office in Worthing. I didn’t have much flexibility. My hours were 9 to 5.15 and that was that. I had to be in the office during those hours. I didn’t get home until 6.30pm after picking up the children, and they were going to bed too late. My husband and I weren’t getting any quality time together. It all got a bit horrendous.
What is your life like now?
It’s completely different. The children have a shorter day. They are now both in nurseries in our home town. I have a really good office set-up and I’ve found a really great place to meet my clients – a lounge in a hotel. They love it. It’s less formal and I’ve realised during my 15 years that it’s really difficult for someone who needs a family lawyer to come into a lawyer’s office. It’s very formal and can be daunting. But to just sit and be comfortable in a place that isn’t a stuffy law firm, it makes it easier for them.
Everyone thinks being a consultant gives you more flexibility. Has that been your experience?
Absolutely. If I want to I can have a day where I’m with the children and then contact clients in the evenings or weekends. My clients like that. When I worked in a traditional firm I wasn’t set up for that. I didn’t have a work phone. All the files were in the office. But now I have everything I need to hand.
What were your fears about becoming a consultant?
I was worried I wouldn’t have any clients and I was worried about losing my fixed salary and that sense of security. Anyone with little children will know that life isn’t cheap.
How did you overcome those fears?
I got some really good advice from other family law consultants within Setfords about how to get clients and I took that on board and did everything they advised me to do. That has started paying off now and I’ve found the work is out there. I joined a local business networking group and it’s so effective. I’ve already had enquiries from people through that.
I have also set up a Facebook page and opened a family law clinic in Horsham where people can drop in. All these things have proved very successful.
I also had a friend sending me inspirational quotes. “Take a chance, it’s the best way to test yourself, have fun and push boundaries.” That’s a quote from Richard Branson and I just kept that in my head. I realised this is a risk but if I don’t take a risk I’ll never know what might have been and I’d always regret that.
What have been the greatest benefits?
It has removed a lot of stress from my life basically. No commuting, more flexibility, more time with my children. And not having billing targets. In a law firm you have massive targets. The stress you are put under to achieve those is horrendous. Even sometimes to the point that your job is under threat.
What has the support been like?
You’ve got everything. Accounts, admin, typing, marketing, business development. The team have been great and they’ve been helping me a lot. They made me landing pages for the web. They printed me some really good leaflets that I used to promote my free telephone consultation. I use those all the time.
What have been the greatest challenges?
Being solely responsible for everything and marketing yourself. You don’t get people off the street wandering into your office so it’s very much a case of taking the bull by the horns and being proactive. I thought I might be lonely but the other family consultants have been very helpful. You can email them or pick up the phone. I don’t feel like I’m on my own.
Was there a moment when you knew for certain you had made the right decision?
When my son was ill. I was sitting on the sofa with him, stroking his head, and I thought: this is the freedom I now have. I can take a day off and not feel guilty or have to use up my holiday time. I am in control. I can be with my children more when they need me.
How does your day end?
I pick up the children between 4.30 and 5pm and then we might go to the park. That’s not something we used to be able to do. There’s no more rushing around trying to get the children into bed. They are down by a reasonable time and my husband and I can actually now have an evening together. Becoming a consultant has been life-changing.