Don’t tell me it can’t be done

November 1, 2018

As the managing partner of St James’ Square, Paul Monaghan is well placed and more than qualified to talk about the mechanics of his industry. What that wouldn’t reveal, however, is the finer detail behind one of the company’s founding figures, who has lived and breathed the firm’s ethos since its very first day of trading. North East Times met with Paul to talk about the challenges faced on the journey so far, the unswerving determination that has lit his path, and the very reason you should never tell him ‘it can’t be done’

While Paul has worked in many law firms, both in the region and nationally, he never thought that one day he would be leading his own legal practice. However, the chance to establish St James’ Square from the ground up was just too good an opportunity to turn down.

Starting up a law firm would be, for most people, too daunting a prospect to even consider, but Paul explains: “I knew from the outset that it was going to be the biggest challenge I’d faced in my working life, but I’m all about big challenges. If something is possible, I don’t want to know. That’s who I am.”

From early on in his legal career, Paul’s hard-working and ambitious attitude was evident. Career progression in law is generally a lengthy and difficult one, especially for a young professional. On average, it takes five years to become an associate, yet Paul achieved this in a year, outperforming the financial targets set for him in order to progress. He went on to become the youngest partner at a mid-tier North East law firm.

Paul not only has his solicitor’s qualification, he also holds the Higher Rights of Audience qualification which is rather rare. When combined with the fact that he
is also a football agent and fluent in Spanish, Paul demonstrates a range of expertise and experience that is uncommon in the legal profession, especially at such a young age.

To create St James’ Square, Paul teamed up with investor Brad Holbrook and, together with other founding partner Andrew Carser, the entrepreneurs planned out a business strategy that would set out to establish the ideal law firm. Paul and Andrew took their combined experiences of working in other legal practices and were determined that their law firm would reflect the very best for their staff and their clients.

Paul explains: “Our idea was to streamline our whole service, our systems and, ultimately, the whole business. So we set up as a limited company and we applied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to operate as a law firm and as an ABS (Alternative Business Structure).”

Initially operating out of one room at Hoults Yard, Newcastle, with just two Ikea desks, mobile phones and a laptop each, Paul and Andrew were soon able to grow the team and new members of staff came on board. These appointments included partners Mark Lynn and Martin Wilson, which meant that the average partner age was just 35.

“That in no way takes away from the expertise that we have,” explains Paul. “If it did, we wouldn’t have the accreditations that we do, nor would we boast the kind of clients that we have.”

St James’ Square works with SMEs, owner-managed businesses, high net worth individuals, PLCs and an array of successful companies, including Hays Travel, Northgate, Co-wheels, Premier Care Homes and The Naked Deli.

Paul continues: “I think where we’ve excelled is in the kind of connection that we’ve got with staff and clients. We’re prepared to go the extra mile. We know what it’s like to run
a business because we are running our own every day. We offer a Rolls Royce service at
a fraction of the price and by using state-of- the-art technology, it means that our service is more cost-effective, more efficient and more accurate for clients.”

And it is working extremely well. Referrals rapidly increased and major new clients gravitated towards St James’ Square. The company continues to grow as a result. Together with the partners, Paul has taken the business to a level way beyond their wildest dreams. Now, only 18 months on, the firm has a turnover of £1.3 million, employs 28 members of staff and occupies an office space of 5000 square feet.

“We took what we thought was a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity, and founded the company on the notion that nothing is impossible,” he explains.

In July of this year, the firm moved to premium office space at Esh Plaza in Newcastle Great Park to accommodate the rapidly-growing teams. “We outgrew Hoults Yard very quickly,” Paul says. “As we employed more people, one room became two, two rooms became three. What we had aimed
to achieve in five years was completed in 12 months. That proves my point – nothing is impossible.”

And the reason for this rapid growth? “Nobody within the firm is prepared to let the grass grow under their feet,” Paul answers. “Everybody is determined and there’s no barrier in front of that determination.”

It is clear that Paul’s energy, ethos and vision run right through the company. All employees of the firm are selected very carefully. “Not only do we recruit high performers, we also look beyond job titles and employ good, decent human beings,” says Paul. “This business is about building a family, and everybody shares that spirit.”

The benefits of being an employee of St James’ Square soon became well known around the region’s legal community. Paul elaborates: “A rumour seemed to spread that there was a new law firm with a different feel to it, where they actually ‘treat you really well’. It still amazes me that this is deemed a positive because it shouldn’t be any other way in my opinion.”

The ambition and determination clearly manifested in Paul had to originate from somewhere. Growing up in a family of go- getters, Paul is the middle child of two highly- competitive siblings. His older brother was one of the youngest art editors The Telegraph has ever had, while his younger brother worked high up in Coca-Cola in his 20s. “There’s always been that rivalry where one tries to achieve a bit more than the other,” explains Paul. “I just took that to the extreme.”

And take it to the extreme he did. The notion of something being impossible is not in Paul’s mindset and this is not something that just applies to work, it is very much a feature in his personal life, too. “When people tell me that something is impossible, it makes me even more determined to succeed,” states Paul. From rebuilding his house from scratch, aided only by tutorials from YouTube, to cycling 300 miles in 24 hours because his friends told him it couldn’t be done; Paul proved the doubters wrong using the latter challenge to raise thousands of pounds for a friend’s son, who was unwell.

The same principle lies behind the success that we see today in the form of St James’ Square. Paul concludes: “People told us that our plans to create and grow our own firm were unrealistic. I simply told them to hold that thought, because I’d come back to them one day and remind them that they said it couldn’t be done.”

St James’ Square Law
+44 (0)191 466 1000

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