Former managing partner now Chambers CEO
After a legal career spanning nearly thirty years, including two terms as the managing partner of Shakespeares in Birmingham, Andrew Argyle is now enjoying being the CEO of Zenith Chambers in Leeds, one of the largest sets on the North East Circuit. We spoke to him about life after partnership.
mtl: Hi, please can you tell us about your career as a solicitor.
Andrew: When I qualified, I started off doing civil litigation, crime and family work; basically anything litigious. At the beginning of my career, young lawyers were jacks of all trades and were used to doing all sorts of litigation. Obviously now there is far greater specialisation, which is good for clients but it puts pressure on lawyers to make important career decisions early on and risk being stuck in the wrong job.
In 1996, I was elected the managing partner of a firm of 30 partners in Birmingham, and held that position for five years. In 2001, I returned to the ‘backbenches’ to do commercial litigation but found it challenging not being in charge anymore and there wasn’t really a need for another full equity partner in the department at the time.
I looked around for something of interest but there were limited opportunites that appealed. I wanted to be in a firm similar to Shakespeares and joined one called Langleys in Lincoln as the head of litigation in that office. By the time I was 50, it was time to leave and I had to consider what to do with the rest of my working life. By this point I had lost interest in partnership and private practice.
mtl: How did you find your current role, what do you do and how is it going?
Andrew: I had really enjoyed being the managing partner of Shakespeares and my wife suggested that I look for other management roles, so I began to search for appropriate CEO jobs. I was fortunate to come across my current role, (through a legal management recruiter) which is managing a large set of Chambers in Leeds. The more I looked into it and thought about it, the more it excited me.
1978 – 1981
Law degree, Birmingham
1981 – 1982
Law School, Guildford
1982 – 1984
Training contract, Bettinsons,
1984 – 1987
1988 – 2003
1996 – 2001
Managing partner of Shakespeares
2004 – 2009
Partner, Langleys, Lincoln
CEO, Zenith Chambers
Traditionally a set of Chambers has a practice director, who has risen through the ranks of the clerks. This is increasingly changing. I was the first CEO appointment for this set, and indeed on the North East Circuit. Zenith Chambers saw it as an attempt to bring in increased business acumen from outside the Bar.
I believe I got the job because I had run a legal practice before, understood the legal profession and particularly the litigation side of it. They were looking for someone with some gravitas, both a management and legal background and the ability to win and care for clients. My experience as a solicitor is useful to Chambers and is also good for clients as it makes me more relatable.
I have responsibility for all areas including daily management, strategic direction, marketing, client care, practice development, recruitment, business plans and financial controls. I make sure that the Chambers operate well and my aim is for the set to become the clear best in the north-east of England and to increase its profile beyond that area.
I really enjoy working on strategic initiatives and it is very satisfying when they come off. As I care about people and their careers, I have my own style of management and enjoy the opportunity to set the tone and make a difference.
I have a curious position in that I am employed as a member of staff, but I work closely with both the staff and the barristers. I am managing 65 individuals who each have their own business and have the challenge of getting each busy person to buy into business necessities rather than just concentrating on their briefs and hearings.
mtl: Do you miss anything about practising law and do you have any advice for lawyers?
Andrew: I don’t miss the legal work itself, though I miss the successes of litigation when the client is happy and the bill is paid. As a partner I met some great people and enjoyed the marketing side of private practice but I’m pleased to be away from the politics of a firm and to be able to put my own style of management into place again. I wish I had moved straight to this role after being a managing partner; it is the perfect job to follow on from that.
My advice to people about their legal careers would be to throw yourselves into the job, don’t be afraid of change, listen to and take care of your clients and don’t be arrogant.
mtl: Thank you for your time Andrew.
Zenith Chambers is a Legal 500 top tier set of Chambers in the north-east. You can see the website here.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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