Interview with Karen Holden, owner of A City Law Firm
Karen Holden is a solicitor, mum and owner of A City Law Firm, a solicitor’s firm that advises on startup law, investments, company work in general and other areas. including family and surrogacy. Read how she’s grown her award-winning business over the past seven years.
Why did you choose to start a business? What inspired you?
Honestly, I had no intention of starting my own business, but over time I had become so disillusioned about how employers and specifically lawyers operated. Clients had become numbers and billable hours were more important than quality work.
I wanted to create an environment where I could be proud to work, where employees would thrive and where I could offer clients integrity, quality work, competitive rates. Sounded like a dream, but after many years of dedication I have achieved what I set out to establish.
I am the founder of A City Law Firm, a London law firm offering advice and support to entrepreneurs, start-ups and high-net worth individuals. We are specialists across many areas of law but we have notable experience in startup law, investment, surrogacy and LGBT issues.
Was it an easy journey?
Absolutely now! Building the business has been an incredible journey with laughter and tears. However, I am proud to say and over the past couple of years, we have won several awards including The Lawyer International Legal 100, 2016, and Most innovative Law Firm, London 2016.
The firm has also been included in the Legal 500 top firms and I was short listed for a working mums champion award.
Mistakes I made were setting up initially with the wrong partners who just did not have the same ethos as me. Luckily, I had a good partnership agreement so I could sever ties and start again.
Cash flow was something that really hurt on occasions as I wrongly extended credit to clients and at times found myself relying on credit cards, even for staff salaries, which was incredibly stressful.
Did you plan your career and your business path?
I always wanted, from a very early age, to be a lawyer, but imagined myself in court daily in the early days. I watched the court room dramas and believed that was my calling.
I progressed from university to the CPS and onto private practice as planned, but the blip in between was I simply could not afford my qualifications, without working, so I had another career whilst studying for the LPC part-time.
I became manager in the public sector and a criminologist, which taught me how to manage people, work as part of a team, focus my skills on being the best that I could be, and learn about an entirely different sector and world. I then when I was qualified and confident enough gave up my managerial role and well-earned salary and became an under-paid, over-worked trainee.
How did you manage to fit a child into your busy world?
This was the biggest challenge as I had always wanted a family and being happily married, despite the hours and stress of setting up the business, it was something we really wanted to start straight away.
As many business owners, will know, it is very hard juggling a family or even a life with a growing business but I have learned to take quality time off when I can so I can work undeterred at the firm when required.
I work full time plus additional hours and never let being a mum impact on my business. I also do quite a bit of work when my husband and son are asleep so I can work without feeling guilty. Having a ‘magic hour’ helps me get ahead in business and I would really recommend it to other working mums, who don’t mind sacrificing a bit of sleep.
How do you juggle your business and being a mum?
A typical day for me starts with cuddles with my five-year-old son before giving him breakfast, dressing him and taking him to school. This is the best part of my day before I throw myself into the business.
To avoid disrupting quality family time, I often resume work during ‘the magic hour’. This is usually between midnight and 3am when my husband and Son are asleep. It’s a hugely productive time of day because I can work uninterrupted, without feeling guilty.
I also find that it gives me the edge in business because I can get so much work done and be better prepared for clients in the morning.
I make sure I take time out for myself with friends or to go shopping; I make sure my husband and I have a night off to ourselves and I make sure my weekends with my son are ram packed of things for him to enjoy with his mummy. The rest of the time I work, market and develop.
It’s not easy, its hard work, but I would not have it any other way as I love what I do and the quality time I have with my family and what I can afford to give him as result makes up for everything.
Is it difficult being a woman and a mum solicitor in the city?
I admit I was very worried that I would be overlooked for promotions or prestigious cases, just because I was a Mum, when I worked at the larger firms. I knew my energy and dedication, the hours I could work and my skills would not falter, but I do not believe the corporate firm would see it that way.
I hid in the early days that I was pregnant and a mum, even as my own employer, as I wasn’t sure clients would see it as a bonus. Now I am able to share my life and pride in my family as the firm is testament to my ability to juggle both lives.
Discrimination is still prevalent in the city and times although are changing it is difficult to bypass sometimes the boys network and turn down events to go home to the family.
That said I run my business and my team in a way that offers all of us opportunities whilst having a work-life balance and I genuinely believe that my teams happiness shines through to clients and their work quality as a result. So, do I let being a women or mum hold be back absolutely no it makes me even more determined.
Running my own business means I can still excel in my legal career and flourish as a mother too.
Who helped you on your journey?
I have a very supporting, unfaltering best friend – my husband. When times were tough he helped me without me having to ask, when we achieved a goal we celebrated to keep us motivated, when I was exhausted he cooked dinner and poured a glass of wine.
And when I was in tears he reminded me where I was going and how it would be worth it, and now he helps with our son so I can focus on the business.
What are your biggest achievements?
I built a business with limited cash and experience; I survived the recession and managed to train and put together a team that are not only excellent at what they do, but enjoy and respect each other.
I have created my dream environment and can honestly say we did it without cutting corners, losing our integrity or compromising our values and ambitions.
We have won awards before for our work but winning Most Innovative Law Firm, London 2016. And being included in the Legal 500 is amazing for me as it recognised the real us – a firm that thinks and acts differently, that never sits on the fence or is slow to react to the market and clients.
We pride ourselves on our ventures and alternative thinking and it has been great to be recognised for this.
Looking after LGBT issues such as surrogacy or HIV discrimination has always been different to other firms, and we have been awarded for our services in these areas as again we have always thought outside of the box. Then throw in advising on corporate bonds, equity financing, tech start-up and we move into another circle of innovation which we proud to leading in
Where do you go next?
I hope to continue the dream by developing my staff and allowing them to flourish and build up the practice further. I have appointed my longest serving member of staff a director and I hope others will follow his path.
If we can continue to organically grow and promote from within then I can continue to nurture the kind of team and environment that I know works.
Find out more about A City Law Firm on their website.