An interview with Coffin Mew chairman Nick Leavey
Coffin Mew chairman Nick Leavey shares a day in his life, why Coffin Mew has made Brighton home and the secrets behind the firm's business success.
1. You’ve recently taken over as Chairman of Coffin Mew and the firm has just announced a 30% growth in turnover – what’s behind that success?
We have developed a simple formula, which is to bring together the best people and innovation to deliver great results for our clients. On a practical level, we have been focussing on making our firm one of the very best places for talented staff to want to work, on being entrepreneurial and creative in how we operate and deliver our services, and on listening to what our clients want and tailoring our services to them. Over the past 3 years, this has enabled us to broaden our services and client base and to expand our firm from its historical base in the Solent Region to new offices in Brighton, London and the Thames Valley.
2. What is a day in the life of a law firm chairman really like?
Different every day! I usually start my working day dealing with emails and calls from a coffee shop, before heading to a different one of our 8 offices. There, I will have meetings with local legal team members for supervision, with operational staff for example on marketing, financial or HR matters, and with other partners and directors on firm management and strategy. I will then often go and meet clients and other contacts, to discuss commercial property matters I am advising on and/or wider business opportunities and issues. Recently, my diary has also taken me “speed dating” with property professionals, painting a classroom at a special needs school with my legal team and doing this interview!
3. Coffin Mew has just expanded in Brighton and has new offices, why did you choose Brighton?
Well, it was recently voted the coolest place on the planet and we think we are a pretty cool law firm! Brighton is, therefore, the natural place for us to apply our formula – the city is full of talented people, brimming with innovation and equally talented and innovative clients who we enjoy working with and vice versa.
4. You are a commercial property specialist, so what predictions can you make about the future of commercial real estate in Brighton?
Everyone knows that we are living in challenging and uncertain times and that the commercial property market is no exception: for example, we seem to hear on a daily basis at the moment, of high street retailers struggling to survive in the face of the online giants. However, a recent report published by the Centre for Cities showed that Brighton has one of the lowest retail vacancy rates in England and Wales and that the City is home to a very high share of high skilled jobs in exporting businesses, all of which drives demand for commercial property in the City. If anything, the real challenge in Brighton is to deliver the right kind of supply against strong demand – a similar type of challenge as that faced in the housing sector.
5. What advice do you have for Brighton business owners that are looking to expand in the city but are struggling to find space?
As I’ve said, there is a lack of quality stock in Brighton, particularly in the office market. After 3 years in serviced offices and searching, we have just moved into a larger, longer term home on Prince Albert Street. However, on my first visit after we moved in, I was thinking: we are going to need even more space before we know it! But I think the answers are to be flexible in the way you use your space and to think about how you can make the best use of technology. For start up businesses, there are a growing number of very flexible, shared workspaces, which can be a great place to learn, mix with others and generate business, as well as get down to the work itself.
6. What’s your favourite thing to do in Brighton?
Having acted for the Brighton West Pier Trust on the i360 and related development for well over 10 years, I would have to say a glorious sunny Sunday I recently spent with my family on a flight up the i360, a visit to the new West Pier Centre and developing area along the Kings Road Arches, followed by lunch at a nearby seafood restaurant.
7. Coffin Mew is successfully making a name for itself across the south. How can Brighton-based businesses rival their London counterparts?
I would say that we already do! As I’ve said, key to our business are people and innovation – Brighton has no problem attracting talented people to come to live and work in the City and it is home to so much innovation, for example in the tech, creative and service sectors. Looking to the future, Brighton businesses will need to ensure that they are connected with London, other parts of the country and internationally and, whilst technology can and will help with this, transport links remain a challenge.
8. Your firm prides itself on being modern, bold and opinionated. Why are these values so important?
Like everything else, the world of law is changing rapidly and we need to be modern, bold and opinionated to be successful. It can no longer be an old fashioned profession of offices with leather bound books on shelves, incomprehensible legal jargon and uncontrolled fees. We are now very much part of the service sector: our clients need us to be accessible and integrated into their businesses, they want us to help them deliver their practical business objectives, and they want us to be efficient and commercial about how we do it.
9. Hiring great talent is key to any firm’s success, so what do you look for when hiring and what qualities make someone a real star at Coffin Mew?
When recruiting and developing our people, we look for them to demonstrate our core values. If I was to sum these and the type of person who will be a real star at Coffin Mew, I would say that they will have a natural inquisition, passion and energy for helping our clients to achieve their objectives in their business and private lives and thereby to help our firm and its people to do the same.
Thanks to Nick for the interview.