Name: Chris Whiteley
Position: Managing partner
In Hot 100 for: Leading Trethowans to bumper financial results last year. Read his full Hot 100 profile.
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
I recall being asked to serve a Bankruptcy Notice as I happened to live near the person being made bankrupt. They turned out to be my neighbour but as an articled clerk I felt I had no option but to go ahead and serve the Notice – embarrassing!
My other clear memory was qualifying and finally being able to say that I was a solicitor and not have to explain what an articled clerk was – a proud moment!
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?
This is a difficult one as no one person has been the most influential. Our previous partnership director (now retired), Bill Stacey was a big influence on me. The firm took the unusual step (at the time) of appointing a non-lawyer (an accountant) as partnership director.
Bill had a completely different approach and ran the firm as a business that happened to provided legal services. His commercial approach to running a business had a big impact on the firm and me as an individual.
The other main influence has been my family – my father and two brothers. I come from a family of hard working self-employed people. My Dad was a bookmaker (Tom Whiteley Turf Accountants) until he was about 40. When he finally gave into the competition from Ladbrokes etc. he had several jobs that included working as a security guard, bouncer and painter and decorator. At the same time he went to night school to learn the O Level syllabus for the main subjects I was taking and then taught them to me as I was not getting much help at the comprehensive school that I was at. Without his help I would not have got my O Levels which allowed me to go on and do A levels and then a Law degree. I will always be indebted to him for his determination and “can do” attitude that helped me pass my exams.
My brothers both worked as thatchers before setting up building companies. I have always been surrounded by people with a strong work ethic which has rubbed off on me. I always say to my own children that with some ability and a lot of hard work you can go a long way.
What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?
Moving to Trethowans. After I completed my law degree I wasn’t very keen on a career in law which, at the time, seemed quite dull.
I got a graduate job in London working for the sales and marketing arm of Anglia TV. I really enjoyed the job and met some great people but with a bit more maturity I began to appreciate just how much a job as a professional could give you a long, rewarding career. You can also work as a lawyer anywhere in England and Wales whereas marketing jobs in TV were all based in London. Having been brought up in the country I wasn’t keen on bringing my own children up in London.
Therefore deciding leave my job and go to the College of Law to do the Solicitors Final Exams and start as an articled clerk for Trethowans and have a career through to being managing partner of a successful firm based in an area where my children have grown up in a beautiful part of the country has definitely been the best career decision I have ever made.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
To always do the small things well when you are starting out in a career. Pay attention to the detail. Be decisive/deal with difficult issues as they arise. Work hard, persevere and if you want to be a partner, work, act and think like a partner straight away.
What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?
I am sure everyone will say that they would like to do some worthwhile pro bono work. While this appeals to me I would probably prefer to have the time to help young capable people find a way to qualify as a lawyer. I am sure that there are very able youngsters who must be put off by tuition fees and not knowing anyone who works in the legal profession. The profession can seem daunting and still to some extent elitist. I had a full grant when I went to university and would not have gone without this. The first solicitor I met was on the first day of my articles.
I would therefore like to have the time to try an inspire and help people from more disadvantaged backgrounds to find a may through to qualifying as a lawyer.