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Tail-s of an IT lawyer (and her dog) - Waterfront turns 10!

Apr 12, 2012

April 2002: Picture the scene. Katie was taking in the sights on the old favourite that is the year 10 school German exchange. Francesca, Jean-Marc and a number of others were cramming a few more useless(!) facts for A-levels and university exams. Matthew Harris was working his IP litigation magic in the city of London. And while all this was going on, one woman and her dog were busy concocting what was to become the Waterfront Masterplan.   From a spare bedroom on the Isle of Dogs (almost) overlooking the Thames waterfront, Carole Hailey, along with her dog Spice, had the nugget of an idea that was the start of what was to become the very successful Waterfront Solicitors. Over the course of the last ten years, the business has gone from strength to strength, and has transformed from a one-woman-one-dog outfit into a nineteen-strong team of loyal and talented staff.   We thought it was about time we got to the bottom of how this came about, so we cornered Carole for a quick question and answer session.     What was your last role before you set up Waterfront?   I was working as in-house General Counsel for a dotcom incubator company.  The insight I had into starting and running businesses was both an inspiration to start my own business and invaluable when I finally took the plunge.   What made you decide to go it alone?    Two things really.  My major motivation was that I thought that there was a genuine gap in the market for a law firm to provide services to technology companies.  At the time, IT companies either had to use huge City law firms, who generally charged eye-watering amounts of money whilst not necessarily having any particular IT legal expertise, or they had to go to more affordable law firms who would be doing conveyancing and divorces in the morning and knocking out EULAs in the afternoon.  I thought that there was an opportunity to offer specialist affordable services to the IT industry. My second motivation was the excitement of the idea of running a business – I suppose I’m the opposite of the usual risk-averse lawyer stereotype.  The idea of starting my own business from scratch was really appealing, and as much as I still love the legal work, I also get a huge amount of enjoyment out of managing a business!   Why focus on IT and software?   I should probably credit my Dad for this.  Christmas 1981, he brought my brother and I a Sinclair ZX81.  From then on I was hooked.  I upgraded to a Spectrum a couple of years later, and was programming in machine code when I was about 12 or 13.  It came to an abrupt halt when I got distracted by boys in my later teens; but I always loved everything to do with IT.  I’ve often thought that if I hadn’t studied law, I would have studied computer science.  If you are going to be a lawyer, who wouldn’t want to be working with the most exciting, fast-paced and interesting industry on the planet?   Who was your first employee?   Employee no. 1 is always a hugely important recruit and ours was no exception.  Alison Berryman joined as a trainee solicitor in 2004 and very quickly established herself as the glue that held everything together!  Becoming a partner (which she did in 2008) was inevitable almost from her first day in the office...   What is your best Waterfront achievement over the last ten years?   Can I cheat and have two achievements please?  The first is the development of the Waterfront team in all its incarnations over the last ten years. We’ve made a point of trying to support and develop each person so that they can achieve their full potential.  On occasion we have recruited people who wouldn’t perhaps fit the quite arbitrary criteria that some other law firms might impose – and as far as I am concerned, that’s the other firms’ loss and our gain.  I take enormous pride and pleasure in providing an environment that allows each member of the team to flourish and excel.  My other “best” achievement is the part (no matter how small) that we’ve played in supporting all of our clients’ businesses.  Without our clients, there wouldn’t be a Waterfront, and it is a privilege to be involved in so many exciting ventures – long may they continue!   And the Waterfront-related thing you’d like to forget the most?   Honestly, not one thing.  Running a business is never going to be a walk in the park; but the more forgettable things only serve to make everything else even more satisfying!  And, if that’s a boring answer, then I will give you another.  Getting rather too enthusiastic with the black Sambuca at our first party at the Globe theatre and spending the last part of the evening becoming overly-familiar with the loo was mortifying (and I had to re-live it when one of our clients kindly sent a bottle of Sambuca and two shot glasses to us the next Christmas...)