Donoghue Solicitors celebrates its 10-year anniversary on 1 December 2020. In this Q&A, founder Kevin Donoghue reflects on the occasion.
Why did you set up Donoghue Solicitors?
I’ve always had a strong sense of social justice and been dedicated to helping my community. From an early age, when I volunteered at “The Brunny”, I realised that I could make a lasting difference in people’s lives. Working in the law was a natural fit for me.
As I learned more about legal practice, I became frustrated with how law firms operate. Many solicitors involved in civil actions against the police rely on the safety net of legal aid. I found that this denied access to justice to those who genuinely deserved it. I was ready to take a risk to help them and the fast-changing legal landscape gave me the opportunity.
What was the hardest/ easiest part of setting up and running your own law firm?
I like pushing myself and those around me out of our comfort zones. Despite this, I never expected setting up my own firm to be “easy”. I made sacrifices. There were a lot of long days and nights. Things were hardest in the beginning. I had to learn a lot about running a business quickly and get comfortable with the unique pressures of running a solicitor’s firm. When I set up Donoghue Solicitors we were in the middle of a global recession which hit banks especially hard. This made it hard to get outside financial support as an unknown with limited assets.
Such challenges were not all bad. They helped me grow a lean practice (without debt, which is unusual for law firms) and achieve my ambition of serving my community in the way I wanted.
As well as my professional obligations, I juggled personal and financial commitments to my young family. My eldest, William, had just turned 1. My wife, Stephanie, was on maternity leave and earning a reduced income. And I instantly went from earning a steady pay cheque to a lack of regular money. Thankfully things have improved, but we remain frugal and live within our means.
Staff recruitment is a continuing challenge. I have exceptionally high standards and expect my staff to live up to them. We don’t use recruitment agencies and I personally vet and interview candidates, which is a very time-consuming exercise. But it’s worthwhile because it means that we only recruit high-quality, efficient, passionate, dedicated people, who fit in to our unique culture. Our retention rate is exceptionally high because we are so careful about who we recruit. This benefits our clients who often treat us as long-trusted members of their own families and social networks.
The easiest part of setting up Donoghue Solicitors was coming to work every day to practice law. I also found this the most rewarding part, and still do. I’m passionate about the law and I still love it. Getting to do my favourite thing, on my own terms, with great people around me, makes me a lucky man.
How do you see charity and nonprofit work overlapping with your business?
I always wanted to “give back” in other ways apart from representing people in their fights for justice. Lifting up those in our community is a core part of my own, and my firm’s, identity. We have been long-term supporters of charities including “The Brunny” (Brunswick Youth and Community Centre), which does fantastic work in Bootle, Merseyside, and beyond. And, with Daniel Fitzsimmons help, I set up and funded a number of youth football teams when I found out that children in my area were struggling to afford to play. Donoghue Solicitors FC teams continue to help children who might otherwise miss out.
What are some business challenges you’re facing now?
Without doubt, increasingly restrictive fixed fees and swingeing judge-led costs assessments are my number one financial and business issue. Clients, regulators, and judges expect a “Rolls Royce” legal service with the best trained and supported lawyers. But these expectations are undermined by fixed fees and restrictive costs regimes which do not allow for it. Clients rarely know about this issue. Some wrongly think that “no win no fee” funding means that they effectively get unlimited, free, legal services. Explaining what we can and can’t do within fixed fees or costs budgets can be challenging.
With the benefit of 10 years’ experience, what would you tell your younger self?
I would say, “Stick to your principles. Don’t lose sight of who you are and what you set out to achieve. Do what you do best. Keep the business lean, solvent, and secure.”
What are you most proud of?
I find that developing my team is incredibly rewarding. I enjoy moulding people who are new to the law, or have come from other firms, into outstanding lawyers.
For example, Daniel Fitzsimmons was my first hire and is still working with me today. When he joined the firm, Dan was as an assistant to a legal clerk and had huge untapped potential. With my help and his own hard graft, he became a fully qualified Chartered Legal Executive who represents clients in highly complex cases. I got as much pleasure out of his qualification as when I became a lawyer myself!
From a legal practice perspective, we have helped many people get justice. Often, they are in despair and don’t know where to turn or what to do. Knowing that we made a difference in their lives means everything.
Personally, my family is my proudest achievement. I have a wonderful wife who was on board with the project from the moment I raised it. We have had three fantastic boys together. Even though the boys might not know exactly what I do, they are a constant source of love and keep me grounded.
Where do you see yourself and/or Donoghue Solicitors in 10 years?
My team and I have achieved a lot together in the past 10 years.
I hope we continue our steady, measured progress. I want to keep standing up for my clients while keeping my team in employment in a safe and supportive environment. We are in it for the long haul. We’re all still (relatively) young and have plenty of years left!
Has your business made you happier and more fulfilled in life, compared to how you felt before starting it?
Undoubtedly yes. It may sound trite, but I really do love helping people and get great satisfaction from it. My success has allowed me to provide for my family. It also means that my team have secure, rewarding, employment and can provide for their families too.
What advice would you give to solicitors thinking of setting up their own law firms?
I would encourage them to do it. Look after your clients, build your contacts, and have good mentors. Commit. It’s not easy, but, as Henry Ford once said,
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.