Thomas Wilkinson is a first-seat trainee in Shoosmiths’ Solent office. He sat down (virtually) with the CEO of Shoosmiths, David Jackson, to discuss some hot-topic questions regarding David’s role at Shoosmiths and the firm more generally – here is what David had to say.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did your legal career begin and what’s been your journey to Shoosmiths CEO? Was it always your ambition to lead the firm?
I grew up in Bristol and always dreamt of becoming a lawyer - I was pretty argumentative as a kid and so it seemed like a natural choice for me (plus I loved the idea of being like one of the cool lawyers in LA Law - google it!). Although growing up in a working-class household in the 80s, it certainly wasn't the obvious choice, but lucky for me I had very supportive parents who encouraged me to work hard at school and pursue my aspirations.
My training contract was with a firm called Edge & Ellison, which merged with Hammond Suddards three months before I qualified (now Squire Patton Boggs). I have fond memories of my time at Edges, although I was convinced by Tony Randle (who was a big shot Projects partner at the time!) to move to DLA on qualification, where I spent just under four years learning my craft as a commercial lawyer.
After a relatively short two year stint in-house at Compass Group plc, I was given the amazing opportunity of joining Shoosmiths in Birmingham (thanks to Alex Bishop for introducing me!) to establish our Commercial practice there as a 5 1/2-year qualified lawyer. I'll always be immensely grateful to the partners of that time (some of whom are still at the firm) for taking a chance on a rather cocky upstart with grand ambitions!
And so, this started an amazing 16+ year adventure at the firm so far. I’ve been very lucky that from day one I’ve been given so many opportunities to progress through the business, taking on different roles and learning new skills. I’ll never forget the CEO of the time, Paul Stothard, reassuring me at the start that this was a firm where I could try things - be bold and make mistakes, without fear of being cut off at the knees. It was so empowering, and I really hope that our people still feel that way today - to be able to try things without being overcome by the fear of failure. As Paul said, if we must fail, fail fast and learn from it (but try not to make the same mistake twice, of course)!
And as for the CEO role, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t factor in my aspirations. I’m not sure anyone ‘stumbles’ into a role like this. I was always excited by the prospect of helping the firm unlock some of its phenomenal potential and I believed that I could help it do that. Not because of an over-confidence in my own abilities - more that I’ve always been supremely confident in the abilities of the brilliant people we have at Shoosmiths.
2. What does a day in the life of a Shoosmiths CEO look like? Are you a 5am-riser, what time do you finish for the day on average, what do you do in your spare time?
I get as intimidated as the next person when I read about those high-achieving CEOs who get up at 3am, spend an hour in the gym and then respond to thousands of emails, before the rest of the population have opened their eyes in the morning. That’s not me, sadly/gladly!
Depending on where I happen to be on any given day, I’m usually out of bed by 6:30 - 7am and responding to emails just before 8am. There’s no such thing as an average day given the variety of things I’m involved with these days, but if I’m working from home, I try to be finished by 7pm so I can spend the evening with my family. Otherwise, you will find me at one of our offices (this week I’ll have been in London, Edinburgh and MK but usually I try to keep it to two office locations per week if I can).
Spare time for me is all about my family. The usual mix of activities with wife Liz and our two kids, Noah and Izzie and buddy our dog.
3. The firm is due to refresh its values. How would you describe the culture at Shoosmiths and how do you, as CEO, help to drive those values?
The thing I’ve always loved about Shoosmiths is that we can truly be ourselves here. It sounds so simple and should be a given, but for many different reasons, people don’t always feel able. I’m so pleased that we’ve been explicit that this is what we believe at Shoosmiths by introducing it as our newest value - 'being ourselves'.
It’s my job to look after our people. It’s a huge responsibility and a massive privilege. I think that supporting and upholding our values is a key aspect for me in taking care of our people. They guide our behaviours and, in turn, shape the firm we are. And I want us to be a firm where people can be them authentic selves and that we celebrate that.
4. Shoosmiths was declared ‘Law Firm of the Year’ at the Legal Business Awards for 2022. How does the firm build on this and maintain its positive momentum, given the challenging economic environment?
This was a fantastic achievement and reflective of the superb work everyone has been doing in recent years. We were also nominated Law Firm of the Year at the Lawyer Awards (where we were Highly Commended) and the British Legal Awards. Truly amazing recognition for everyone at Shoosmiths.
I always shudder when I hear that Shoosmiths is the legal market’s ‘best keep secret’. I don’t want it to be a secret - I want the world to know how amazing our people are. So, I’m determined that we build on this success and use it to fuel more success for the firm and everyone in it. Yes, the economy is looking rocky, but over the years I’ve witnessed the firm and our people pull together when things get tough, to achieve amazing things.
So, far from thinking that we’ve peaked too soon, I consider this just the start for us…
5. Obtaining a training contract is notoriously difficult. What tip(s) would you give to someone applying for a TC at Shoosmiths? What would you look for in a prospective applicant that maybe other firms wouldn’t?
Keep the faith! It is hard but if it's your life's ambition to become a lawyer, don't let go of it. Keep trying and eventually you will succeed.
And if you're applying to Shoosmiths, please just be yourself. Genuinely, just be yourself. You don't need to invent someone you think we're looking for. If you remember that, you'll be far more relaxed and as a result, perform much better for sure.
6. What skills do you think lawyers of the future will need? Should they learn to code, have a million followers on LinkedIn or work on their handicap?
I happen to believe that the most successful lawyers of the future will be those who possess high EQ skills, which I think bodes very well indeed for Shoosmiths lawyers - our people are far more emotionally intelligent than your typical lawyer!
Tech and tools like AI will level the playing field when it comes to intellect. Just as the calculator revolutionised how accountants did their jobs; I believe that tools like Cia® will mean that lawyers will have to add value for clients in ways other than traditional legal analysis. Computers will do that part for us.
To thrive, lawyers of the future will need to use the skills that computers can't learn to maintain our seat at the corporate table. Like reading the room to know exactly when to raise a particular point with the other side. Understanding when to push a point and when to let it go depending on the reaction of those around you. Being able to weigh up which points are the deal breakers, and those which can be conceded.
So, you may be relieved to hear that I don't think you’ll need to sign up for night school to learn quantum computing or complex coding. Or become an influencer on Tik Tok for that matter. Instead, carry on being an inquisitive, respectful, kind person as these are the skills that will set you apart in a dystopian future where computers have replaced the lawyers with no people skills!
And there you have it, an insightful discussion into David Jackson’s role as CEO and a bit more about what makes life at Shoosmiths unique.
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