A Day in my Legal Life – Matthew Barrett, Setfords consultant

Matthew is a consultant lawyer at Setfords specialising in planning and other regulatory law. He lives in Stafford with his wife Jan who is also a planning lawyer, but works in a traditional firm. Matthew, who’s 60 years old, joined Setfords in 2012 after a career spent in local authorities and traditional law firms.

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Matthew standing with his plane Foxy

How does your day begin?

I try to be at my desk by 9am. Jan is out the door by 8am as she has a 45-minute commute each way. My journey to work is 30 seconds because I work from home. I spend the morning trying to get through emails although it very much depends on what I’ve got on.

Why did you become a consultant?

I was an associate in a firm that eventually fell victim to the recession. I started having conversations with larger, more conventional firms and they were saying you can come and join us, but you need to have your own following. And then I spoke to Setfords and the penny dropped: become a consultant and build your own following. I liked the ability to do exactly what I wanted to do. To make it exactly what I wanted to make of it. And to reap the benefits of my hard work.

Was consultancy what you expected?

The first six months were a lot better than I thought they would be. My initial thought was: ahh, this is going to be tough. I’m going to have to really make the effort. But most of the people I had had as clients actually searched me out. And then I began to make myself known within Setfords which meant consultants began to pass work on to me when they had a client that needed my type of specialism.  

The firm also gets queries from people on spec – generated by the website and business development team – which brings me other clients, and I have picked up a number of cases I would never have dealt with normally. It has really widened my skill-set. Because of the way the fee-share is structured I personally now earn something like three-times more per job compared to what I did when I worked within a traditional firm.

Did your age play a factor in your desire to be a consultant?

If I were to apply now to a conventional law firm my age would be against me. Everyone knows that. But in a firm like Setfords it’s an enormous advantage. There’s not much I haven’t seen so I know how to handle cases. And most importantly I have the experience of getting clients and keeping clients. And that’s perfect for a consultant.

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Matthew flying his plane

Do your clients care that you don’t work in a traditional firm?

People are sometimes a bit curious how it works, but usually it’s a case of explaining the benefits. You won’t get someone better than me with 30 years’ experience for the price – prices I’m able to keep at a set level because I’m self employed and don’t have the overhead. You can get me anytime. I can work from anywhere. If you wanted me to come to your offices to work I could do that.

What’s been been the biggest benefit of being a consultant?

My time is my own. I qualified as a pilot in 2003 and have a share in an aeroplane which I keep at a private airfield five miles from Stafford. And so if it’s a beautiful day and I want to spend the afternoon flying then that’s exactly what I will do, providing I can juggle my work.

I sometimes fly to see clients. I can get down to the south coast within two hours whereas driving would be a nightmare. I frequently take that option. Some of the most wonderful times I have had are flying in the height of summer during the very long days – if it’s sunny and you are going up every bush throws a shadow that’s 200 yards long, every field is a painting.


What’s been the greatest challenge of being a consultant?

It’s always been juggling the number of clients and making sure every one feels like they are the only client they’ve got. When I worked in local authorities I could say I’m too busy to do that. You never say that to your clients when you are a consultant. But I have made a conscious choice to have work-life balance. I’m 60 years old. To a certain degree the struggles of mortgages etc. are now behind me. I don’t want to work all hours so I structure my life and the number of clients accordingly.

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Matthew with his wife Jan

What does your wife think of your lifestyle, considering she works in a traditional firm?

When you are salaried in a traditional firm there is a pressure to perform and come up with a certain number of chargeable hours and what have you. And my wife often says to me that I couldn’t handle what she handles because my life is so different. I have the freedom to set my own agenda. I don’t feel I have to do everything and take on every job. So when clients come to me and I say yes, I’ll take on your job, I’m doing it because I want to.

How does your day end?

Whatever happens dinner is at eight when my wife gets home. Jan has a working day that starts and stops. I work when I need to and when I want to. So I may relax for a couple of hours, but if there’s something urgent that needs doing I may go back upstairs to my study and finish off a few emails and do some admin until fairly late. That’s my choice. But I am in control. Jan says to me: you don’t know what it’s like working for The Man. And she’s right. I don’t really remember what that’s like. I’m very lucky.

To find out more about becoming a consultant lawyer at Setfords visit www.consultantsolicitor.co.uk.