Big vs Boutique – James Breese – S1E2

In this episode of the Legally Speaking Podcast, our host Rob Hanna is joined by James Breese, an insurance lawyer at specialist insurance boutique law firm, Fenchurch Law, to discuss the difference between Big and Boutique law firms. 

James previously worked at a Top 20 UK firm. James openly discusses the differences between big and boutique firms, and the pros and cons of each.

Show notes

Here are 3 reasons why you should listen to the full episode:

  1. Learn more about the pros and cons of big and boutique law firms.
  2. What does an insurance lawyer do.
  3. Hear about the cases James particularly enjoyed and how he was involved.




Episode highlights:

James’ background in insurance:

  • James set out with the aim to be a litigious and contentious lawyer, with his training contract being 100% contentious.
  • Academically, his modules were insurance-focused, along with his training and post-qualification experience too.
  • In the past 12-18 months, James has specialised in insurance.

What does James enjoy at his current boutique firm and a big firm?

  • James enjoys the autonomy and responsibility that working in a boutique firm offers him.
  • He was allowed to build his practice, and was trusted to do more business development.
  • By working in smaller teams, he has been involved in more cases.
  • In a boutique firm, James notes that there are steeper learning curves as he is awarded on a professional level.
  • Working in a big firm offers more support around lawyers by having 6-7 people working on one case.
  • Lawyers have more administrative case support – a luxury of litigation.

James’ first networking event at Fenchurch Law:

  • James switched to the claimant side when he joined Fenchurch Law, whereas he exclusively worked on the defendant side previously.
  • At his first networking event, he found there were bigger firms where people knew each other, and a certain gravitas came with that name.
  • At the event, James was the only claimant lawyer.

What opportunities and challenges did James face when moving to a boutique law firm?

  • James finds business development the most enjoyable part since he believes his strengths lie within a client-facing environment, business development, winning work, networking and marketing himself, as well as the firm.
  • In his experience, James finds marketing is more partner-led in a bigger firm.
  • James least the limited choice of work, as it is dependent on availability in a boutique firm.
  • Whereas, in a big firm, there’s never a lack of work, so it becomes more selective. 

Flexibility in boutique firms versus big firms:

  • In a boutique firm, James is trusted to manage his own time, finding it more flexible.
  • The difference in number of hours is not great.
  • In a bigger firm, there is more rigidity in terms of staying late because there is a greater volume of work and more deadlines.
  • In a big firm, the hour targets are more demanding, but the consistent workflow allows lawyers to achieve those targets. 
  • There is an intensity of working in a smaller firm and working directly with a partner. 

Progress in boutique firms versus big firms: 

  • James thinks that it should be easier to progress through the ranks in a smaller firm since, in a bigger firm, there is a flatter structure with more competition.
  • Progressing in a boutique firm is more dependent on the relationships established, rather than working through the framework and competencies of a big firm. 

What are James’ interests outside of work?

  • James has a French bulldog called Walter.
  • He also enjoys playing sports. 

The types of lawyers at boutique versus big firms:

  • In his experience, James has found there are people more willing to invest their time in helping lawyers in boutique firms.
  • It benefits them as a smaller firm and is a direct product of their work. 
  • James agrees there are certainly helpful people in bigger firms whom he has learnt from. 

What does James enjoy about cases in big firms versus boutique firms?

  • James enjoyed working on high-profile cases in a big team since there were more opinions and discussions.
  • The pressure that comes with such cases and clients is gratifying.
  • As a result of funding, security and the firm’s client base, more aggressive tactics are adopted, along with taking more risks, in big firms.
  • In boutique firms, James enjoys the camaraderie since they work in a small team to achieve an objective.
  • James describes how, by working in a smaller team, people have a more significant role, even as a relatively junior lawyer. 

Development training in a boutique firm versus a big firm:

  • In a smaller firm, there is less of a foundation and space for support and training. 
  • There is not a large number of resources and budgets, meaning it is demand and request driven. 
  • There has to be a justification for regular CPD-type events, and there is less infrastructure for training in place at small firms. 
  • Lawyers are still given the opportunity to attend courses.
  • The lack of a structure in training puts more of an onus and responsibility on an individual to identify their training needs.
  • James explains that at a big firm, lawyers often attend courses without knowing what benefits they will provide. 
  • He believes that being in an environment where you are encouraged to do well is beneficial for personal development. 

What was James’ experience moving from a big firm to a boutique firm?

  • James was eager to build on certain qualities which would help him win work in the future.
  • At the boutique firm, James found himself being encouraged to build on these qualities and take on more responsibilities. 
  • At Fenchurch Law, James describes the training, learning and growth sessions that take place, which focus on honing the skills needed to win work.
  • He explains the culture at Fenchurch Law encourages people to spend time on business development and give seminars – a unique responsibility for associates at his level. 

What is the culture like at a big firm versus a boutique firm?

  • From his experience, James has found that there is an intensity in a big firm, with less opportunity for a breakaway chat. 
  • Compared to a smaller firm, James believes there is more spotlight to be working, with a different intensity due to the smaller environment.
  • He describes a smaller firm as having a jovial atmosphere, but everyone has work to do. 

What advice would James give to his junior self?

  • James suggests establishing and maintaining relationships as early as possible and consistently.
  • He believes if he had focused on business development before, he would be in a better place now.
  • What he thinks will set people apart as they progress is networking on the business development side, which may not be comfortable but is beneficial. 

Legal tech in a big firm versus a boutique firm:

  • In big firms, there are more resources and support networks, so there are fewer advanced tools available in smaller firms. 
  • Fenchurch Law is looking to embrace legal tech for their benefit and their clients’ benefit.
  • A tip from James to junior lawyers is to familiarise themselves with technology.

5 powerful quotes from this episode:

  1. “… there is a learning curve and you’ve got to dip your toes in areas that you’re not necessarily familiar with, and it’s great exposure”.
  2. “…establish and maintain relationships as early as possible and consistently”.
  3. “And all what I would say, is just throw yourself into it because, if you think what’s the worst that can happen, it’s never actually about bad”.
  4. “So I think the quicker you just chuck yourself in there and do it more, the quicker you’re gonna become more comfortable with it and and just begin to enjoy it or just embrace it as you need to”.
  5. “I suppose that might be another tip to very junior lawyers that are looking on coming through the ranks. As familiar as you can get with technology…”.

If you wish to connect with James, you may reach out to him on LinkedIn.

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To learning more about the exciting world of law, Robert Hanna and the Legally Speaking Podcast Team.

Disclaimer: All episodes are recorded at certain moments in time and reflect those moments only.


Rob Hanna: Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast, Powered by Kissoon Carr. I’m your host, Rob Hanna. This week, I’m joined by James Breese, whose assured us, is a three year qualified lawyer working at Fenchurch Law. For context, Fenchurch Law recently won  Boutique Firm and Law Firm of the Year at The Lawyer and LexisNexis Legal Awards. James will be talking about his time spent in both big and boutique law firms and what legal professionals might want to be thinking about when considering working for one or the other. Oh, I’m pretty confident he’ll be constantly talking about his love for his pet dog. So Mr Breese, welcome. 

James Breese: Hi Rob! Thanks for inviting me.  

Rob Hanna: Pleasure. And, I must start by asking the all important question, as is customary on the Legally Speaking Podcast on the scale of 1 to 10, 10 being very real, how real do you rate the hit series Suits?

James Breese: 1. On the basis I’m yet to meet a secretary like Donna.

Rob Hanna: [Laughter] But does that make you still the Louis Litt of the world?

James Breese: I consider myself more of a Mike Ross actually Rob.

Rob Hanna: Do you!

James Breese: Harvey next,  

Rob Hanna: Harvey, next; Harvey, next. Okay, interesting. So that’s a stark contrast from last week and we had a 10. So we’ve gone from a 10 to 1, so that’s interesting. So you’re an insurance Lawyer?     

James Breese: Mhmm.   

Rob Hanna: Did you always want to be a man who was, erm, specialising in protection?    

Both: [Laughter]  

James Breese: It’s always always been in the forefront of my mind,  protection. I set out with an aim to be a litigator, contentious lawyer That’s all I’ve ever done. Training contract was 100% contentious. That’s what excites me. I don’t find the non-contentious transactional work particularly exciting. And then academically, my modules were very insurance focused and my training and post qualification experience, was always gearing towards insurance. And I’m now in the past sort of 12-18 months, very much specialised in insurance.

Rob Hanna: Interesting. So it’s fair to say you like arguing with people?

James Breese: That would be fair to say Rob, yes, you will know.

Rob Hanna: As we do know. So James and I actually share many mutual friends. And yeah, most of the time his friends are telling me that he’s starting arguments. So is that something you adopted during childhood?

James Breese: I’d have probably mine my father to thank. And then I suppose I’ve had the misfortune of meeting some incredibly irritating people along the way, recruiters included.    

Rob Hanna: [Laughter]  

James Breese: And, you just you just end up the way you end up. 

Rob Hanna: That’s true. Very true. Yeah, so I guess with today, the topic is very much talking about big versus boutique. And we have sort of labelled it, risk it for a biscuit. You’re sort of career, you spent time at both boutique and big businesses in terms of big firms and it will be helpful for listeners listening in for you to tell us a bit about what you particularly enjoy in your current sort of boutique firm and what you also particularly enjoyed in a big firm.

James Breese: And starting with the present. I think the the draw for me was the opportunity to have far more responsibility, autonomy. As a 3-4 year qualified lawyer, you’re beginning. You’re given the opportunity to build your own practise, you’re trusted to go and do a lot more business development, than I’ve otherwise had the opportunity to do in bigger firms. You get more involved in cases because by definition you’re working in smaller teams, rather than larger teams. And I suppose that there are steeper learning curves, but you’re awarded on a professional level because you’re you’re just learning more and there’s more opportunity. I suppose the drawbacks of that and therefore the positive of a bit of a bigger firm, is at the bigger firm you’ve got the support around you. So you go from working in, say at Fenchurch Law, when you’re working in a smaller teams, teams typically with two or three others maybe. In a bigger firm, then you might have six or seven people working on any one case. And then you’ve also got the support from the sort of administrative case support side, and that’s a nice luxury to have, particularly in litigation where its often backs against the walls and last minute sort of deadlines.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, and do you find from your experience being in a boutique firm versus a big firm, that having a big firm and a big badge, going to sort of, you know, pitches or working on cases helped? Or do you think that didn’t have an impact at all? 

James Breese: No, I think it did. I remember the first sort of networking event that I went to Fenchurch Law and, I should have said at the start that I’ve switched to claimant side. Whereas previously in my career, I’ve worked exclusively on the defendant side. And the first networking event I went to with Fenchurch Law, was A) with a lot bigger firms where people knew each other and there was a certain gravitas that came with that name. And secondly, I was the only claimant lawyer. And I came back to the firm the next day and said, I now know what it feels like to be the only claimant lawyer in the room. And yeah, to answer your question, I think the big names carry some weight.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, and when you say people you know, attracted to think about making a boutique move, lots more responsibility. You know but in reality, what does that actually mean? You know what have you actually had a step up or an opportunity to do a lot more of that you’ve particularly enjoyed and also what you found quite challenging as a result of that?

James Breese: For me the most enjoyable part is the business development side. I’d say I’ve always, that’s always been my interest. I think a lot my strengths lie within a client facing environment, business development and going out winning work and networking, marketing myself and my firm. My  personal experience, and it’s probably not the same for everybody in every firm, but my personal experiences is there’s less of that when you’re in a bigger firm because it tends to be more partner led. If you’re a smaller firm and there’s not always that luxury because the numbers are smaller and its incumbent upon everyone to try and win the work. So I’ve enjoyed the trust placed in me to go and do that within reason. I mean, clearly, you don’t have a carte blanche, but you do what you can. And then on the sort of, what I’ve not enjoyed, I suppose you have less choice to be able to pick work because the work that’s available is the work that’s available and you can’t cherry, pick what you do or don’t. Whereas in a bigger firm it’s a conveyor belt. There’s never, there’s never a lack of work, and you can almost pick what you choose to gamble with, and who you work with, that sort of thing. So that’s trade off, but for me it was a trade off that was absolutely worth making, and I was ready to make, and I have not looked back.

Rob Hanna: Okay, good. And I think again, people wanting to move from a big firm, maybe they’re hours are quite heavy, you know, they’re kind of giving a bit of a sacrifice on the work life balance side of things. How have you found that in terms of sort of big versus boutique?

James Breese: I think the difference is you’re trusted. Certainly, where I am. Trusted to manage your own time. Yeah, in terms of hours worked is no different because, you know, working any less hard. 

Rob Hanna: Did you just say you’re a hard worker James?  

James Breese: That’s true, you know me by now Rob, how many years!

Both: [Laughter]  

Rob Hanna: I can’t believe you’ve managed to sneak that into the podcast. Unbelievable!  

James Breese: Hope you heard that Boss!

Both: [Laughter]  

James Breese: But there is more flexibility as to when you do do the work. But in terms of numbers of hours worked per week, I don’t think it’s huge amount different. I mean, at a bigger firm, there tends to be a bit more rigidity in terms of staying late. But part of that is because of the environment you’re working. And if you step away from her desk at 6 p.m in a bigger firm then you are almost certainly going to be the only one stepping away from your desk at 6 p.m. And that comes with a certain reputation, if you’re doing that too often, whether or not it is accepted as being true, I think, sort of experience tells me that in those sorts of firms, well you’ve just got to stay a bit later and not least because there’s more volume of work. And if you’ve got more, a greater volume of work, then you’ve got a greater number of deadlines. So I just think there’s a bit more to worry about there with that.

Rob Hanna: So in terms of progress. Do you think it’s easier to progress in a big or small firm, up the ranks?

James Breese: I suppose I better answer that question next year. Once I’ve been made or been promoted as the case may be. You know, I think theoretically, I think it should be easier in a smaller firm because in a bigger firm, you’ve got a flatter structure with loads of associates all vying for a smaller number of places. But there’s probably less structure for in a smaller firm, say it’s, it’s I suppose, much more dependent on the relationships you have, rather than it being a tick box exercise in a bigger firm where you’ve just gotta work through a framework and tick off all the competencies and do the rest of it, earn all the rest of it. But I think in theory, it should be a bit easier in a smaller firm, but i’ll let you know.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, okay, let’s assume you do get to go out of the office. I know for one you’re a man with a few quirky habits. So what do you tend to get up to when you’re not sort of grinding away? What keeps you busy outside of work? Queue his first reference to his dog. You’ve got a dog right James?

James Breese: I’ve got a dog right yeah, as you well know, a French bulldog.  

Rob Hanna: Yeah, name?

James Breese: Walter. Walter, French bulldog. He’s yeah, he consumes a lot of my spare time. Although my other half might say not as much as her. But that’s an ongoing debate. All things sport, apart from the dog, say

Rob Hanna: I assume that’s watching rather than playing. Looking at your general physique today.  

James Breese: [Laughter] Yeah, my, consistent playing years are behind me, but I still go down the pitch, but I still run. Don’t worry about that. They tend to be my main activities. Which makes it sound pretty dull, actually. But I’m an exciting chap, as you well know Rob.

Rob Hanna: [Laughter] Yeah, it’s all rock and roll right?

James Breese: Yeah. After a few beers.  

Rob Hanna: Yeah, indeed, indeed. So I guess on beers. But let’s look at some of the minor things, shall we say, that are also the big important things. Biscuits. So big law firm versus a little law firm. Who does the best selection of biscuits?

James Breese: You picking up on my physique again?    

Rob Hanna: [Laughter]  

James Breese: We don’t have biscuits. So there’s your answer.

Rob Hanna: There you go, there you go. And when you were in a big law firm which were your favourites?

James Breese: We had clubs. Those little chocolate bars. 

Rob Hanna: Oooooh the orange ones?

James Breese: Oh you know about them do you?

Rob Hanna: Ooh yes.    

Both: [Laughter]  

Rob Hanna: Orange or the purple ones, or both?    

James Breese: Errr, purple.   

Rob Hanna: Yeah, yeah, good.

James Breese: You approve?

Rob Hanna: I’m very much approving, but in terms of probably a little bit more, moving on in terms of big versus small,  boutique versus big, egos and heroes. Do you think you found from your experience more egos in the bigger firms or more egos in the boutique firms? And similarly on the hero’s side. Are people actually prepared to help you, up-skill you, develop you more so in the big or boutique? Just share a bit of your kind of experiences on that.

James Breese: Starting with the latter. I think there are more heroes again. My experience and in smaller firms and 

Rob Hanna: Why’s that?

James Breese: Well, I think it’s because people, I think, I think, it’s in their interest, more so to invest their time in you because I think there’s a direct product that comes out of them investing their time in you and it benefits them as a smaller firm. It’s also because the environment you’re working in, as I touched on earlier, I think it’s within everyone’s interest to get it right because you’re working in smaller teams. That’s not to say there are no heroes, and bigger firms have worse. There are some incredible people in bigger firms that I’ve learned an awful lot from. In terms of egos I don’t think is really much different. I think you get egos in all firms. In a boutique, as you’ve labelled it, then you’ll get egos because they’ve joined smaller firms, from bigger firms. If you say you only get egos in bigger firms then by default, when they move away, then they’re taking their egos with them.

Rob Hanna: Fair point, fair point. So if people are work shy, then should they choose a big or a small firm because as we know every lawyer, some lawyers would just like to get the work done and get out. So what’s your advice to those?  

James Breese: If you’re work shy it might not be the answer people expect. But I think potentially a big firm because I think you can hide more in a big firm.  I think the hours targets are demanding. But as I said before, there’s always the work flow to allow you to achieve those targets or obligations. But you’ve got hundreds or thousands of people within or around you that can guide you offer you assistance. And there’s perhaps an argument, that maybe you become a bit reliant on that. Whereas in a smaller firm, you’re still working hard, but because there’s the intensity of working in a smaller firm and working directly with or for a partner, then you can’t afford to slack. So for anybody who thinks this is a step down, I think that might be misguided.

Rob Hanna: Okay, fair enough.  And we’ve got a few ‘Is it true?’s that people have asked out. Is it true that your dog’s instagram page has more followers than you?

James Breese: Given I don’t have instagram, that’ll be absolutely accurate. Yeah.

Rob Hanna: So what’s Walter on at the moment?

James Breese: I don’t know. Probably not quite 100.  

Rob Hanna: Not quite.  

James Breese: It started off as a great marketing idea and I thought I could get some money out of this stupid expense, I decided to take on. Now, at the request of my other half, it’s not quite happened. I’ve now just used his instagram to follow various sports pages.  

Rob Hanna: Just sports pages. Yeah, yeah. Disclaimer. Sports pages. Yeah.  

James Breese: I didn’t sign this form earlier.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, exactly. Is it true you’re using this podcast recording as hours toward your BD target?  

James Breese: I plead the fifth.

Rob Hanna: [Laughter] And is it true you don’t know your own SRA number?

James Breese: No, I do know it actually.

Rob Hanna: Go on!

James Breese: I can’t tell you that!

Rob Hanna: [Laughter] Okay so thats 3/3 lies from James guys. Okay, so buzzwords  

James Breese: 575931  

Rob Hanna: There we go, there we go. Who knows. Google it! Find out!

Both: [Laughter]  

Rob Hanna: So we all hear the buzz words and law firms, people talking about you know, this, that and the other. But from your time in big and boutique law firm’s what are some of the buzzwords you particularly picked up on in those two different environments? And you particularly hate?

James Breese: I’m not sure its a buzzword, but the word boutique is created by a recruiter, and nobody knows what it means. It’s just a firm other than a big firm. Yeah. And from a bigger firm, I’m not sure really I had much sort of buzz experience as to words. I don’t know, maybe SLA’s, things like that.  Service Level Agreements, client agreements and various targets. Hit with all of that.

Rob Hanna: It’s always those acronyms aren’t they. 

James Breese: It’s definitely not a buzzword.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, but it’s like those annoying acronyms or someone comes up with a new acronym or something like that. Just sort of throws you off kilter, right? Yeah. Cases…

James Breese: Also the recruiters buzzword is synergy isn’t it? Thats another one that nobody knows what that means. 

Rob Hanna: Yeah, what does it mean?  

James Breese: I don’t know, no you tell me Rob! 

Rob Hanna: Well, pfft, you need to speak to a good recruiter about that!

Both: [Laughter]

Rob Hanna: So cases then, you know, you’ve got a lot that you can talk about but which were some of the cases you’ve most enjoyed from your time in a bigger firm versus a smaller firm and yeah, why is that? Let’s start with the big. Which case you know, that you can talk about, what have you particularly enjoyed and got involved in?

James Breese: I’ll sort of approach this question slightly differently and say and take cases collectively and whatI enjoy working on, rather than one single case. And I think in a bigger firm, you’ll work on some pretty high profile cases. You’re working in a bigger team where you’re getting various different opinions, discussed and worked through. And I think there’s a real. There’s a real pressure that’s created about it. It is quite a nice pressure because you’re, well, you’re working with the clients, and we have a pretty large legal team trying to come up with the right answer. What I found particularly enjoyable was you tended to have far more aggressive tactics and some of that may have been as a result of funding, and some sort of security within the firm, and the firm’s client base in the sense that they could afford to take more risks. That’s not to say that smaller firms wouldn’t take risks, but I think there is more of a safer approach sometimes. 

Rob Hanna: Hmm.

James Breese: As to why I enjoy working at the boutique firm, I think there’s a real camaraderie created because everyone’s got a vested interest in the case. And as I said before, we’re working in a small team. So everyone’s everyone’s really pulling together to try and achieve whatever objective. Objectives being said in the short and long term. And as a product of working in a smaller team, and you end up having on some cases quite a significant role, even as a relatively junior lawyer, because there are just not the same resources available. So I think I said before there is a learning curve and you’ve got to dip your toes in areas that you’re not necessarily familiar with, and it’s great exposure.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, I guess some people’s reservations about maybe moving to smaller firms is, you know, big firms, they’re very good at marketing themselves in terms of not only the best cases but also training resources. Those sort of things that are obviously very important to people when they’re trying to further their legal careers. How have you found, sort of, development, training in a smaller firm versus being in a bigger firm?

James Breese: There’s less of a sort of a foundation there, a space for support and training. There’s not a huge amount of resources and budgets like you would get in a big firm, as far as I know. But that said, I think it’s very I think it’s probably demand and request driven. So I have no doubt that if I wanted to go and learn or further my sort of exposure to particular area or learn something, then I would be given the backing to do either. But I think there has to be a justification for as a sort of regular, CPD type events. Then we still have that. We still have people come in. We’ll still do them internally and they’ll still be courses that we would attend. But there’s just less of a sort of infrastructure for training in place. But as I say, I think certainly in my experience, is that if there’s a justification for you going to attend a particular course and it’s happened to me previously, then then you’re given the opportunity to do that. And I don’t think, I think would be unusual for any law firm to try and curb your learning in that respect.  

Rob Hanna: Yeah.

James Breese: And I suppose it puts more of an onus and responsibility on the individual because you’ve got to identify your own training needs, and that’s in keeping with the SRA’s changing stance on learning recently. Um, rather than you just be given this framework, to work to, at a big firm and you just attend the course really without any thought about what benefit or otherwise, it has on your practise.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, And you’ve talked quite a bit about BD, particularly sort of maybe at a smaller firm. We’ll move away from using the word boutique just to keep you happy and you know, given that you’re, by your own self admission, good at arguing with people. I guess you can’t do that initially when you’re going out to try and find new clients And what tips would you give people or what?  

James Breese: I don’t argue with a client or prospective clients. That would be my first tip.

Rob Hanna: [Laughter]  

James Breese: I don’t know how you do it Rob?

Rob Hanna: [Laughter] Yeah, that’s probably sage advice, but I mean, typically, what else would you do? What else have you incorporated? Because you wouldn’t have had so much of that experience coming out of the big law firm, right? So have you just sort of chucked yourself into that? Have you kind of found mentors? How have you kind of got yourself good at the job? Because that’s a big part joining a smaller firm showing you could do it right?

James Breese: Yeah, I think, without trying to sound arrogant, but I think I always had all the qualities potentially to do it. But then it’s about having an environment in which you’re encouraged to, well, the really harvest, that sort of personal development rather than just coming in and doing the job. Because I think any qualified lawyer can do the job to a certain degree. 

Rob Hanna: Yeah. 

James Breese: And I was keen to really build on what I thought were certain qualities that I had that will enable me in years to come to be well positioned to win work and all the rest of it. But the biggest sort of compliment, perhaps I can have and the only way I can really answer the question. Is that your trusted to go and build that they’re working practise for yourself? I didn’t have many of an opportunity to do it at a bigger firm, but that’s, I think, that’s just because of the demands for work. And it was very partner focused and say there was, there was less of a responsibility, onus or expectation for associates to go out and do it. Certainly at that level, I mean if you’re 7-8 years qualified, then things might be different. But I’m not there at the moment, so I can’t. Can’t say. But yeah, I mean, is you’re just encouraged to go out and do that and we have specific, um, sort of training and learning and growth sessions internally at Fenchurch Law, which really look at honing the skills for getting to win work, because it’s so important to what we do. We spend quite a lot of our time on the business development side of things. There’s really a culture of trying to encourage people to do that. And we all go and give seminars and webinars and things like that. And I think that that is quite unique for associates at our level.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, and culture is a massive thing. And everyone talks about the word collegiate. That’s a buzzword, that actually annoys me when people talk about the word collegaliaty, because what does that actually mean on? But how have you found the cultures in terms of big versus small and yeah, a little bit more about that.

James Breese: In the bigger firms I have worked at,  I think there was a certain intensity there, as most people would expect to come with a bigger firm. Um, there’s less opportunity throughout the day to have a breakaway chat and a natter. For reasons I’ve touched on, I don’t think moving to a smaller firm, is a step down. And if anything, the spotlight’s on you, to be working. And so I think t there’s a different intensity that’s created because because you’re in a small environment and you need to do what you need to do. I mean, naturally, it’s a jovial atmosphere. It’s a fun place to be, but alongside that is, there is an expectation there that everyone’s got work to do. So to me  I don’t think I can draw much of a distinction  between it.  

Rob Hanna: Okay. Who has better banter, big or small?

James Breese: I’m gonna say big.

Rob Hanna: Really! Hm, okay. 

James Breese: Because you’ve got a larger associate pool which you can mix and have a chat with and break away wherever possible, and go to the pub after.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, so you seem to talk about the pub quite a lot James.

James Breese: Yeah I’m recovering.  

Rob Hanna: Yeah, recovering? [Laughter] Good, good.  If you could give one piece of advice to a junior self, your junior self other than ‘you probably should have been an investment banker for the hours that you guys work’. What would it be?  

James Breese: Probably establish and maintain relationships as early as possible and consistently. I mean, banging on about the BD, If I had known some of what I know now, and be as comfortable with it back then as I am now, and I think I would be in slightly better place.

Rob Hanna: That’s really interesting because we’ve had a couple of. So the other week we had on the Chairs of the London Young Lawyers Group and they do a lot of networking events and

James Breese: You went to the Supreme Court didn’t you?

Rob Hanna: Yeah. We did do an event at the Supreme Court with them, yeah, yeah. Did you see that?  

James Breese: I did yeah, a few times. 

Rob Hanna: Yeah, good, good. Don’t want you to miss those sort of things.  But one thing that you know they’re really passionate about, and I think we’re kind of helping and wanting to help raise that profile. The fact now, to be a lawyer, you need to be able to network, you need to have those people skills. You can’t just be sort of stuck in the documents. Particularly If you are thinking of taking, you know, courageous moves or wanting to move to a smaller firm and, you know, is there anything that you would say to that or encourage people to do?  And do you know anything that you particularly found that’s helped you in terms of that?  

James Breese: I think you’re exactly right because it’s expected more and more,  and in the day and age we live in now and where it’s all moving, then I think there will be more often expectation for people, lawyers to be familiar with, or comfortable  with this sort of thing. Historically, I think people were just,  well lawyers were just expected to be able to do the job, and do the job well. But as I said earlier, I think if you’re a qualified lawyer, to one degree or another, everybody can do the task. Somebody might do it better than others, and somebody may do it quicker than others. But I think everybody at some stage will get there. What’s going to set people apart as they move up through the ladders is being able to do the networking, BD side. And I think for lawyers generally it’s an area that nobody, really feels comfortable with, and there are certain things that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with, and even now, probably not  that comfortable with. And all what I would say, is just throw yourself into it because, if you think what’s the worst that can happen, it’s never actually about bad. And if you think rationally, what’s the worst that can happen, then it’s often even less of an issue than what you, the image you build up in your head? So I think the quicker you just chuck yourself in there and do it more, the quicker you’re gonna become more comfortable with it and and just begin to enjoy it or just embrace it as you need to.

Rob Hanna: And there is a couple of questions before we wrap up. I think you know, big things again that are going on in the law. Legal tech.  People are talking about this left, right and centre. How have you found that again? Moving from a big law firm. Tonnes of resources, probably lots of investment versus small law firm. Inevitably, it’s creeping in, whether you against it or for it. It’s coming. So you know what’s been you experiences of that? And what would you say to people thinking about big versus  small with regards to legal tech and supporting it?

James Breese: As I said, the resources and the support network are bviously, there at a bigger firm. The infrastructure is there, so I think, naturally you’ll have less of that available to you in a smaller firm and certainly the technology, and the tools available to you might not be quite as advanced. But I think us as a firm certainly embrace it and we’re looking at ways to improve our own practises our benefit and for our clients benefit. And,  there are committees that I think look at these sorts of things and where an investment could or should be made because, as you say, it’s coming. I think it’s coming, to the benefit of all of us, really, so I think it should be actively encouraged. I suppose that might be another tip to very junior lawyers that are looking on coming through the ranks. As familiar as you can get with technology, the better, I suspect.

Rob Hanna: Yeah, I think you know the technology is designed to help, and I think if it can free up a bit of time so people can work on the networking side of things and all those, I think it’s only gonna be a positive. I do have a very serious question for you, though.  

James Breese: I can tell by your face it won’t be serious.

Rob Hanna: [Laughter]  

James Breese: Don’t play poker. 

Rob Hanna: Yeah. Would you like to take this opportunity, now you’re on the Legally Speaking Podcast to apologise for that woeful LinkedIn profile picture of you. I mean, what are you doing signalling with those hands?

Both: [Laughter]  

James Breese: I get a phenomenal amount of stick for that photo. 

Rob Hanna: [Laughter]  

James Breese: I thought it was quite good. 

Rob Hanna: That’s the problem!   

James Breese: So I’m not extending an apology to anyone. I’m deadly serious, approachable, and then there was some loose hands as well. 

Rob Hanna: Is that your BD pitch? Just check out my loose hands. [Laughter]

James Breese: I can’t possibly give any secrets away. 

Rob Hanna: [Laughter] Indeed, indeed. James, final thoughts from you. We’re all human at the end of the day, what’s going on in the personal world outside of Walter the dog, anything else that you’re trying to focus on? I mean myself, I keep continually telling people I’m trying to get fit.

James Breese: Not working is it?

Rob Hanna: Yep, struggling with that. So what’s going on the world of Mr Breese? Anything exciting? Got anything planned?

James Breese: Um, I got some really exciting things coming up, including a big trip to South Africa in December for a couple of weeks. Two back to back weddings over there, so it’s going to be a very painful third day.  

Rob Hanna: Yeah, and whereabouts in South Africa?

James Breese: Just outside of Cape Town in the Winelands.

Rob Hanna: Back on the alcohol again are we?

James Breese: Yeah. You know me, never far away.

Both: [Laughter]  

James Breese: And then yeah, various bits throughout the year. But thats what I’m looking forward to next. 

Rob Hanna: Good stuff, alright, James. Well, really good to catch up with you. Thanks for popping on. I’m sure there’s lots of good extra content people to think that heels into. Particularly considering small versus big. I think we’ve alleviated the word boutique off the back of today, so yeah. Thanks for coming, and over and out.

James Breese: Cheers Rob! 

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