James is a partner and Head of Banking & Lender Disputes, having joined Foot Anstey two years ago from international City law firm, CMS.
What made you leave a major law firm?
I was on the Partnership pathway at CMS but felt I was at a career crossroads. Stick with something very familiar (with the good and bad that brings), or twist. There was no question I wanted to be a Partner, but if you could not chart your own course, what was the point? It wasn't just the label that was important for me. I had to decide whether a City firm would deliver what I wanted for my career and family. City firms are typically very structured and traditional – things are done the way they’ve always been done. There wasn’t the flexibility or autonomy to do anything different.
What was the opportunity you could see at Foot Anstey?
At Foot Anstey, I could see the rare opportunity of a relative blank page – the freedom to start from a well-placed, respected firm and grow a specialist practice my own way. It was a certainly a challenge. But here was a firm with serious ambition to give me the freedom and support to find out.
Does that mean it’s an easy ride outside of London?
Absolutely not – far from it. If anything, it could be seen as the opposite. You’re more visible. More exposed. Yes, you have autonomy, freedom to do things your way, pursue new areas of business development. But there are no hiding places!
I don't think a firm needs to be cut-throat or prescriptive to achieve results. At Foot Anstey it’s achieved through trust and empowering our people; entrepreneurship and responsibility. Plus, it helps that the people we hire are already ambitious, talented and motivated individuals.
Firms have cultures, ways of doing things and it might not be for everyone. Nothing is put in your lap but if you’re entrepreneurial and ambitious you are given the opportunity to thrive.
What reassurance would you give to someone considering moving to Foot Anstey?
Look, there’s no escaping the importance of quality when considering a move. Pedigree matters - which firms you’ve worked for; which clients you’ve served. So I took confidence by looking at the quality of people leading and working at Foot Anstey. Our key people have come from Eversheds, CMS, Simmons & Simmons, Womble Bond Dickinson and Burges Salmon. Look at the clients we work with. If you’re an ambitious, good humoured quality lawyer, with a track record of working in significant firms, you’ll be in good company at Foot Anstey.
Can you name a highlight in your time at Foot Anstey?
I think it’s probably the work we’ve done with a major lender client, in elevating the recognition of Foot Anstey. I was able to be seconded to the client when I first joined – unusual, and quite bold to second a new Partner. But this was a great opportunity to develop their historic perception of Foot Anstey from a "provincial" into a trusted, City-quality partner.
The client recently refreshed and reduced their panels and I’m proud that we are retained and have grown our coverage. That’s quite an achievement when you look at the other big City firms on the roster.
We are now a go-to firm for support and considered alongside major names like DLA for strategic and horizon-scanning advice.
What do you find satisfying about working at Foot Anstey?
I think it’s the genuine client focus. Because of our size, every client is more important. At a City firm, there are so many clients that it is not unusual to do one piece of work for a client and never see them again. You just move on.
So, here, we give every job more care and attention. We make sure to deliver even higher quality work; even better service. We spend more time developing and nurturing deeper relationships.
And through knowing clients better, we understand their pain points, and can provide more valuable advice. This even extends to our business development. We don’t pump out generic bulletins; instead, we create bespoke updates and thought leadership for individual clients, looking at an issue from that client’s perspective, and giving a valuable, tailored insight.
The outcome is that clients feel that we more a part of their own team and when they look to instruct "externally" they know we are hungrier for their business. They value that. And they reward us by making us their trusted partners – as a firm and as individuals.