My career story: “I quit law to set up a business with my mum”

Freddie Manson trained at Slaughter and May and worked at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett before leaving to set up legal recruitment business Frederick Rose with his mother.

Freddie Manson

What’s your background in law?

Growing up I was always interested in law and the City. I read history at university, because I knew you didn’t need to study law, and got a training contract at Slaughter and May, where I got a really diverse training.

I moved on qualification to Simpson Thacher where I practised as an M&A lawyer. It was very enjoyable, though very different from Slaughters.

Why did you move from Slaughters?

It really was a case of wanting to see another law firm. I was very happy at Slaughter and May; however, I’ve never been the type who’s been afraid to be a first mover, so I really did want to see what other opportunities were there. People often shy away from that, when in reality they should be keener to see what’s out there.

By the time I moved, I knew that running my own legal recruitment business was something I wished to do in the future, so it was interesting to see how the process was run. From my own experience… I didn’t feel that the service was there.

So the move into legal recruitment was something you’d been thinking about from an early age? What were the drivers?

My mum ran her own legal recruitment firm, Joanne Manson Recruitment, in the 1990s and early noughties. She built up a really strong business but just as it was really starting to take off, my father became very ill and died. My mother had two young children and so she stopped, but she always hoped to get back into it one day and remained in touch with many of her contacts. She helped friends of mine out when they moved and there were partners at top firms who kept asking she ever thought about getting back into it.

For me, it was always something’d thought about: that I would love to work with my mother doing what she used to do, something I knew I’d be good at and would enjoy.

I hadn’t planned on doing it so soon. The impetus came from helping out my friends and seeing that there really was a need for someone in my position to be carrying out this role. The benefit from doing it so early is that I’m the one of the closest recruiters to the lawyers I’m now assisting, having been though the process recently and knowing exactly what it means and what junior lawyers in particular need. A big matter finished and I just felt, why wait any longer?

What was making the move to an American firm like?

It’s incredibly useful for me now to have worked in both a magic circle firm and in a US firm. It’s so important when you’re advising lawyers to have an idea about what it means to move, with the up sides and the down sides. Moving to a US firm is what seems to be on everyone’s minds at the moment, but it doesn’t suit everyone. I’ve seen people go to a top US firm and they’ve left after four or five months because it’s not the move they should have made.

It’s important they have the right advice and that’s one of the key things about this role, you have to dig down deep and find out what it is candidates really want.

Have you any tips for lawyers thinking of starting their own business?

Yes, with the caveat that I am only at the beginning of business that will hopefully be around for many decades. I certainly wouldn’t advise individuals to stop their job as a lawyer unless they really have complete belief that they are going to make a difference.

I’m not saying don’t do it, but you shouldn’t be impulsive. Lots of people have good ideas, and I’m sure every lawyer comes to the end of a huge matter and thinks about all the other things they could be doing instead. But unless you have that certainty you should always wait to make the leap.

I’m lucky in that I’m not doing it alone – I have a business partner with an awful amount of experience in my mother. I wouldn’t necessarily have had the confidence to do it right now without that support.

A fair number of lawyers do become recruiters – any tips on what to be prepared for?

You’ve got to be prepared to say goodbye, the moment you walk out the door, to all of the authority that comes with working at a large law firm.

Suddenly you are on your own and are going to face a number of setbacks and challenges each day. As a lawyer you don’t necessarily experience that, because most of the time the clients you are dealing with are expecting your call, there is a clear reason why you need to be speaking. You’re moving into a much more flexible environment when you become an entrepreneur. Opportunities can come out of nowhere, so you need to be ready to say to goodbye to many of the structures that you benefit from at a large law firm.

The most important skill is how you are with people. I was always someone who loved being in meetings. And you’ve got to be dedicated to going as far as you can to help someone. That’s ultimately what a service business is about, and of course applies to both law and recruitment.

And what’s it like working with your mum?

It’s interesting: people have different responses. I find lot of Americans really admire it. There seems to be an appeal within the US culture of working with a parent. In England people often have the attitude that it’s the worst thing they could ever imagine!

I’ve always been very close to my mother, and I’ve got an enormous amount of respect what what she’s done professionally and personally. That doesn’t stop us from arguing, but I couldn’t think of anything better than working with a family member.

A lot of the issues you might have with a business partner – they might not want to carry on, or there’s internal competition – don’t exist. That’s what I like the most. We don’t compete for business; we are working together and for the long term. She’s an ideal business partner.