Interview with Shainul Kassam, founder of Fortune Law

When Shainul Kassam hit a glass ceiling early on in her career, she didn’t let it stop her. Instead, she signed a lease on a West End office and set up her own business. Find out how Fortune Law was born.

What’s your career background?

I am a corporate and commercial lawyer, having specialised from the get go in listed company advisory.

I am the founder of Fortune Law, a boutique London law firm acting for smart start-ups and growing businesses on a variety of matters including fund raising, commercial contracts, IP protection and commercial property.

I regularly advise on contentious matters including shareholder disputes and the negotiation of sensitive exit situations. I am also an accredited commercial mediator.

How did your career change after having children?

I have two young boys aged four and seven, and being self-employed I had to learn how to juggle all manner of things and very fast.

Ambitious growth of my business took a backseat while my boys were young as I worked hard to ensure revenue was maintained, that existing clients were taken care of, the team supported and my family was also nurtured.

It was at this time however that we began to appreciate the need to invest in external marketing support and build a strong online marketing plan to ensure continuity of pipeline. This eventually led to an increase over the next few years in online revenue from 2% to 30%.

Those early years of balancing home, the office and my pro bono work were challenging years and those challenges continue daily. Being fulfilled both professionally and personally is of course difficult yet it is rewarding beyond measure.

I cut my day differently and I work outside of traditional hours where necessary so I can attend both the school play and complete a seed round. Being a corporate finance lawyer the ability to work under pressure, to tight deadlines and at odd hours definitely helped!

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I hit a glass ceiling quite early on in my career and I was impatient. I couldn’t think of any other way of doing what I loved in a way that rewarded merit not just for me but those around me without starting my own law firm.

I couldn’t accept the system and I couldn’t at that time beat the system. I didn’t want to waste precious time so I decided to go it alone.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

Almost without hesitation. I crossed a line and then knew I had to develop skills and fast to ensure my firm was a success.

I had to apply for approval from the Law Society, write a business plan, secure professional indemnity insurance (eye watering) and then look for a Central London office and hire my first team member. Being in a service industry this made it more straightforward as the offering was knowledge, experience and reputation.

Being young when venturing out meant that reputation wasn’t established in the same way but having worked 18 hours a day and having worked on 20 IPOs meant I had the confidence of having both knowledge and experience in my area of specialism.

Running and sustaining a business, hiring a team, building a client base, handling accounts, risk and compliance all had to be learned on the job.

What’s your USP?

We are a boutique law firm providing exceptional service and expert advice for founders from start up through to flotation. That is what we do. We practice law.

Our clients expect us to know the law, to be creative, to be commercial. Why they return however, and some of our clients have been clients for over a decade, is due to the relationships we build with the people behind every business we work with.

The understanding, trust and engagement that we strive to develop is what makes Fortune Law unique.

Who’s your target audience?

We act for a number of listed companies on discrete pieces of work and provide independent legal advice to high level executives but the key focus of our business is smart start-ups and founders with both ambition and drive.

These individuals or co-founders have developed a product or service and are in the early stages of execution or expansion. For many, this is the first time they will have engaged legal advisers and their needs can vary from protection of their intellectual property and ideas to negotiating shareholder agreements, advice on raising finance and dealing with investors to putting in place share options for key staff.

At early stages, everything is new and everything is critical. As trusted advisers with extensive experience in this area we bring reassurance and add value.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

As a forward looking, ambitious, on-the-ball business, we have an exceptionally strong focus on online marketing and have in fact built a clear niche for ourselves in company restoration work using this channel.

Our social media efforts are increasingly demonstrating high levels of engagement and leads, as is email marketing, which we have been developing for almost 10 years now. This has assisted greatly with our recruitment drive.

Our e-newsletters have a very strong open rate and a loyal readership – and deliver business. We have also worked hard over the last 10 years to ensure that our website is very search engine friendly, both technically and in terms of content and incoming links.

This means that a large proportion of our incoming enquiries are generated via organic search through Google – we are for example ranked top of Google for the search phrase “commercial lawyer london”.

We review our marketing monthly against our annual plan and test new approaches on a regular basis.

Currently we are focused on PR and raising awareness of our forthcoming legal boot camp launch for founders under our Fortune Las Academy banner and our series titled DRIVE which will focus on inspirational founder interviews including guest sports personality interviews. We measure everything we do based on return on investment and adjust our marketing plans accordingly.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

We are not a traditional law firm and although we rely on the depth of our client relationships, repeat business and referrals, our focus on online marketing has been our most successful strategy to date.

Since we started an online marketing plan and focused heavily on this our fee income from online marketing has increased from 2% per annum to over 30%.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Running a business means there are endless obstacles to overcome. In my case, I was reported to be the youngest female to start a law firm in this country solo.

Although I did not know this at the time, this meant starting out knowing no one else I knew was doing anything like what I had embarked upon and not being able to ask for advice from anyone in my peer group.

Other obstacles include:

  • Starting out without a single client.
  • Personally signing a five year fully repairing and insuring lease for a whole floor in the West End just before the 2008 recession.
  • Flooding French Connection below us when the boiler in our kitchen collapsed just out of warranty.
  • And losing a much needed number two when I was eight months pregnant with my second child!

You develop resilience, flexibility and the ability to find solutions when life brings you problems, you take it in your stride, you keep calm and you carry on!

And your proudest moment so far?

Training and supporting my team members, watching them develop and grow in confidence and help them achieve their goals including especially the budding lawyers I have had the privilege to train.

Why is work so important to you?

Many entrepreneurs will tell you, as I will, that I don’t consider what I do as work. I am very fortunate to be able to do what I love and to know that our clients who have a choice of whom to instruct trust us enough to allow us the privilege of representing them.

If you can get to a place where you love what you do, it won’t feel like work, it will feel like self-actualisation. But before you get there, you have to work really hard, put in the hours and learn your art. There is no substitute for hard work.

On a more personal level, it is important that the young men my husband and I are raising see positive female role models daily so gender inequity can be a thing of the past.

Who inspires you?

People who say they can. I am inspired by do-ers. Those who have drive and determination and regardless of age, gender or any other differentiating factor pursue their purpose.

How do you balance your career with your family?

I cut and paste my life so I can spend quality time with my family. Where possible my family travels with me and when I do have to travel alone technology keeps us close.

My sons come to the office during school holidays and my eldest came to issue some claims at the High Court last week on school inset day. They take part in the 10k London Legal Walk each year walking to raise funds for access to justice charities.

I tried to keep work and family life separate earlier on as I wanted to ensure I gave my family my undivided focus where possible, but as my sons grow up I want them not only to know what I do but how I do it and why.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Work hard but remember that your achievements and hard work will not always speak for themselves. You must speak for yourself.
  2. There is always room for meritocracy. Sometimes you need to make that room yourself.
  3. If they don’t give you a seat at their table, you can #buildyourowntable.

Find out more about Fortune Law on their website.