What I’ve Learnt: David Summerhayes

July 29, 2020

David Summerhayes is one of the leading commercial litigators in the North, acting for global brands, FTSE 100 companies and fast-growth SMEs in complex and high-value dispute claims. A partner at Newcastle law firm Sintons, David is also well-known for his work in defamation and privacy

My first training partner taught me to always be interested in my clients. At every opportunity, find out what they do, why they do it and what they want to do next. If you can do this successfully, the legal advice you give is really business advice, and far more valuable for it.

Be optimistic and open to opportunity. Lawyers are trained to identify the things that can go wrong for clients and it is all too easy to become risk-averse with your own business. This approach is something I’ve adopted relatively recently. If you think you have a good idea, go for it.

The one quality that runs through all my successful clients is drive and the willingness to carry on when others would stop. This translates into hard work and the attention to detail that produces a competitive edge.

As a litigator involved in disputes, it is crucial to have a calm head in a crisis, an understanding of strategy, and resilience. Lawyers also need attention to detail, an understanding of human nature and creativity in solving problems. It’s a broad skill set.

Building trust is paramount. Aside from a lawyer’s professional and regulatory obligations, clients need to be 100 per cent confident they can tell you anything and everything.

When starting a business, find a good mentor, speak to like-minded individuals and gather as much relevant information as possible. You will want your business to offer something different and to stand out, of course, but innovation doesn’t necessarily mean starting everything from scratch. It can be pulling together accepted ideas in a way no one else has thought of yet.

Review your policies and procedures on a regular basis. It is probably not necessary to have a full suite of bespoke documents from day one, but a lot of disputes arise because contracts are entered into without proper attention. The risk/reward dynamic changes as a business grows, as it takes on more employees and as order values increase. The key is to identify the point at which spending a little time and money documenting things properly will pay dividends.

Cultivate a team mentality and identify a common goal. Everyone should be pulling in the same direction, working to their strengths, and celebrating success. If each team member understands and genuinely appreciates how the others contribute, they will motivate each other. It doesn’t always work that way, because that’s life sometimes, but you have to try.

As Warren Buffet says, ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it’. I regularly advise owner-managed businesses, national brands, and global corporations on matters of reputation and the same fundamental principles apply to all businesses. In this social media era, everyone is a publisher and reputations are susceptible to attack across many platforms. Whether allegations are right or wrong, you will be judged on how you act and how you respond.


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