Technology biggest impact on legal sector, says Tim Halstead as he celebrates 25 years as Shulmans managing partner

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Technology is the biggest change that the legal sector has seen and while it has been positive to a certain extent it has also put more pressure on lawyers to deliver immediate responses, says the long-standing managing partner of a Leeds-based commercial law firm.

Tim Halstead, who is celebrating 25 years as managing partner of Shulmans, told The Yorkshire Post that technology has had a “huge affect on the way we work, both on the practical side and also on the wellbeing of people”.

Tim Halstead, managing partner at Shulmans.

Tim Halstead, managing partner at Shulmans.

Mr Halstead joined Shulmans nearly 35 years ago. He said: “If I go back to 35 years ago, you sent a draft document out by post. The earliest it was ever going to come back was 48 hours later.

“These days it goes by email and it may come back an hour later, half an hour later, even 10 minutes later.

“Replicate that across all of the matters everybody has on and it creates huge pressure on people.”

The managing partner says that had anyone told him all those years ago about the technology available today, he’d have thought it was a manna from heaven.

“What we didn’t know and what we didn’t think of was the pressure that built on everybody,” Mr Halstead said. “It means that everybody demands instant responses. It means that people’s inboxes are piled high and it puts huge pressure on everyone.”

He added: “It’s not necessarily bad throughout, it’s not necessarily good throughout. It’s very different though. I don’t think as a business world we’ve yet worked out how to cope with inbox management.”

The law firm, which was launched in August 1981 by Jeremy Shulman, puts a lot of emphasis on staff culture.

Mr Halstead says that by creating a supportive environment, it enables staff to deal with the pressure that comes with technological developments.

He said: “We work in an open plan office now. That helps us be alert to the warning signs. We work in teams. Typically a couple of colleagues at least will work on a job, copying people in so that colleagues can spot if something’s not been answered.

“It gets better as the firm gets bigger because there’s more people to spread the load out. It’s not working in silos. It’s a you help me today and I’ll help you tomorrow mentality.”

Shulmans has 235 full-time staff and turnover at the law firm is set to reach £17.5m.

“Sometimes people ask about growth plans and so on,” Mr Halstead said.

He added: “We don’t set out to grow. We see growth as a consequence of the other things we do.”

The firm is based from a single site in Wellington Place, which Mr Halstead says is an advantage to the business because it enables Shulmans to be agile.

The rise of Tim Halstead

Tim Halstead entered the legal profession because his headmaster at Woodhouse Grove School in Bradford, David Miller, told him that he argued a lot so he should become a lawyer.

He then went to Leeds University for three years and Chester Law School for a year.

“Then I was articled, the equivalent of a training contract, to a firm called Harrisons for two years. I qualified in 1982,” Mr Halstead said.

He originally met Jeremy Shulman in 1981 just as he was starting the firm. Mr Halstead joined the firm in 1984, becoming a partner in 1985.