Meet the law man determined not to move out of the fast lane

Despite selling Shulmans to listed law firm Knights, Tim Halstead, now the chief operating officer of Switalskis Solicitors, was not ready to hang up the suit just yet, writes Ismail Mulla.

Tim Halstead became managing partner of Leeds-based law firm Shulmans in 1994.
Tim Halstead became managing partner of Leeds-based law firm Shulmans in 1994.

Tim Halstead was set on his career path in the legal profession by his headmaster at school, who noticed that he had a tendency to “argue a lot”.

Since then, Mr Halstead has spent over four decades in the sector, qualifying as a solicitor in 1982.

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But it wasn’t until 1984, when Jeremy Shulman, then a sole practitioner, convinced the young lawyer to join him and a year later Mr Halstead became a partner to form Shulmans.

Last year, Mr Halstead became chief operating officer of Switalskis Solicitors.

Mr Halstead said: “It was quite a rollercoaster ride because in those days we did everything that came through the door. We set out to become commercial corporate lawyers rather than private client lawyers.

“You had to put on quite a good front and I wouldn’t say pretend to know what you’re doing but you really had to learn fast.”

It was at Shulmans that Mr Halstead ended up making his name, becoming managing partner in 1994.

His name became synonymous with Shulmans as the Leeds-based corporate law firm grew to 250 staff.

Mr Halstead is also the chairman of trustees at the children’s hospice Martin House.

However, last year, those ties between the law firm that he had been so instrumental in shaping and Mr Halstead were cut when listed giant Knights acquired the business for £20.1m.

“We weren’t looking to sell,” says Mr Halstead. “We were quite happy doing what we were doing but the opportunity arose and the partners weren’t getting any younger.”

Mr Halstead was the oldest of the partners but he admits that “it was a very difficult” decision to sell but one that was taken collectively with the other partners.

Knights also provided a “fairly compelling” case of taking the business to the next stage, he added.

The now former managing partner was given the opportunity to stay at the now Leeds office of Knights but Mr Halstead says he “wouldn’t have enjoyed it”.

He added: I’d been the managing partner for 26 years then and they had their own management team.

“I would have been a backseat driver. I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching somebody else manage that bit of the business so we agreed to part.”

The whole world changed at this point with the acquisition by Knights being announced just a couple of weeks before the first nationwide lockdown.

Despite a long and successful career – Shulmans had enjoyed nearly a decade of double-digit growth – Mr Halstead wasn’t ready to ride off into the sunset yet.

He said: “I’m far too young to do that. Had Knights not come along I was planning on staying there for another five years.

“I need to keep things going. I’m much too young to give up. I enjoy the job too much and I like to keep active.”

The veteran lawyer put out feelers to see if there were any firms in need of his expertise and experience.

John Durkan, managing director of Yorkshire-based Switalskis, came calling with the ideal opportunity.

The law firm, established in 1993, has been on the march in recent months having completed two major acquisitions in the region. In September, Mr Halstead joined Switalskis as chief operating officer.

Mr Halstead said: “John got in touch and over the summer we had a few conversations. He and I were on the same wavelength. The culture at Switalskis is right up my street.

“One of the first things I did in the first two, three months was to go around and talk to all the directors, senior people there and just present a bit of a report back to John and the directors as to what I thought about the business.

“It was so much like Shulmans’ culture. It’s a different sort of firm in many ways – the work type is different – but the culture was so similar.”

A key objective of Mr Halstead’s is to raise the profile of Switalskis and ensure it gets the recognition its growth deserves. The other is to help put in place a framework for a bigger business.

“It’s nearly twice the size of Shulmans,” Mr Halstead says. “There’s quite a lot therefore to do in terms of creating a bigger framework for the business.”

In December, Switalskis acquired Doncaster-based Atherton Godfrey followed by York-based Pryers Solicitors a few months later. Just last week, the law firm, which now has offices in 14 towns and cities across the region employing around 450 staff, expanded its family and child care law department by adding the Sheffield-based family law team from Keebles.

“We are looking to hear from individuals and teams in any area that’s complementary to what we do,” Mr Halstead says.

The move to Switalskis also enables Mr Halstead to take on more of a strategic role – something that he wanted to do at Shulmans but found himself encumbered by day-to-day issues.

It does mean that Mr Halstead has had to build new relationships with staff at the firm. He concedes that not being able to meet his new colleagues due to the pandemic has been frustrating. However, the industry veteran is relishing the chance to get to know new people.

The biggest change that Mr Halstead has seen over his career is the advent of technology. It has proven to be a bit of a double-edged sword, he says, with business now being conducted much faster but also leading to increasing pressure on lawyers.

Mr Halstead hopes to mentor younger staff members and help them manage some of the pressures that the modern business environment places on lawyers.

“I do have more time and less direct responsibility in my current role than I had at Shulmans so I hope I can do more mentoring,” Mr Halstead says.

Away from work, Mr Halstead is playing a key role in supporting Martin House Hospice. He is the chairman of trustees at the children’s hospice at what is currently a financially tough time for charities.

Having rolled the dice in 1984 and throwing in his lot with a sole practitioner, Mr Halstead hopes that when people look back on his career they remember someone who helped foster a positive work culture.

Mr Halstead may not come across as argumentative, in a newspaper interview at least, but he does put forward a compelling case for not hanging up the suit just yet.

Curriculum vitae

Job title: Chief operating officer at Switalskis Solicitors and chair of trustees at Martin House Children’s Hospice

Date of birth: July 1958

Education: Woodhouse Grove School and Leeds University

Favourite holiday destination: Botswana

Favourite TV programme: The West Wing

Favourite song: Times Like These by the Foo Fighters (acoustic version) as sung by the Wellington Place Workplace Choir

Last book read: The Best of Me by David Sedaris

Car driven: Range Rover Evoque

Most proud of: Apart from my wonderful children? Helping to build up Shulmans from a two-solicitor practice to a UK200 firm with a national reputation.

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