Solicitor who took his chance and now reaping the rewards

Yorkshire Lawyer of the Year 2016: Simon Stell, LCF Law. 18.10.16
Yorkshire Lawyer of the Year 2016: Simon Stell, LCF Law. 18.10.16
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It was a classic 1970s TV show that inspired the career of Simon Stell, now managing partner of LCF Law. Ismail Mulla spoke to him.

It all started with the television drama The Main Chance over four decades ago for Simon Stell.

The TV show, which follows a solicitor as he moves from London to Leeds, made Mr Stell want to become a lawyer.

“Like many of my era in the 1970s there was a programme on television called The Main Chance and it was about a solicitor who seemed to have a very exciting and interesting life. I thought that would be a career that I’d like to pursue,” recalls the managing partner of LCF Law.

After studying for a law degree at Birmingham University, Mr Stell returned to his home city of Bradford and joined Last Suddards.

He qualified as a solicitor in 1981 and became a partner with the firm in 1984.

Mr Stell said: “The late 1980s was a time of great growth for legal services in Yorkshire and it was an opportunity for many of the Bradford and Leeds law firms.

“They were attracting legal work that had traditionally, in the past, gone to London for large companies and organisations based in Yorkshire.

“There was a lot of merger activity at the time to take advantage of those opportunities.

“That’s when Leeds really established itself as a centre for legal services.”

It was around this time that Last Suddards merged with another Bradford firm called A.V. Hammond & Co to create Hammond Suddards.

“I became one of the founding partners in Hammond Suddards in 1988,” Mr Stell said.

The firm went onto become a major player in the burgeoning legal sector in Yorkshire.

“I enjoyed my time in taking part in the creation of that with the founding partners and the growth in that firm,” says Mr Stell, “but by 1996 we’d grown substantially and I accepted an offer to join some of my former partners in a smaller law firm.”

Mr Stell went to Nottingham Trent University to do a MBA in legal services and became managing partner of the firm, which would go on to become LCF Law.

When reminded that he was approaching 20 years as managing partner, Mr Stell says: “I hadn’t realised it was that long. I knew it was a long time.”

Over the years the biggest change in the legal industry that Mr Stell has observed is the shift towards being more business centric.

He said: “When I first became a solicitor lawyers could not advertise. You put a brass plate up and waited for clients to come and see you. It was very traditional.

“In the past solicitors felt that their clients would come to them and they were needed by their clients.

“Whereas now customers will just walk away if they are not getting the service that they require because there are plenty of other providers of legal services out there.

“We have to make sure that we’re looking after our customers.”

The industry has also seen changes with many firms now able to adopt the alternative business structure (ABS). In 2015 LCF Law went down this route.

“That structure enables us better to manage the retirement and eventual departure of people like me and my other partners,” says Mr Stell.

However, retirement isn’t quite on the agenda for Mr Stell.

“You’ve got to plan for it ahead of time,” he said. “I’m 61, there’s no point me saying when I get to 65 I’m going to retire next month. You’ve got to plan it five, ten years ahead.”

Recently, Mr Stell was named Lawyer of the Year at the Yorkshire Legal Awards. He described receiving the award as a “great honour” and a “surprise”.

Mr Stell added: “I see it as a testament to the hard work of my partners and the commitment of our staff to LCF Law.

“I think we’ve created a very good law firm. We want to make law accessible and affordable. Law seems to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be.”

LCF Law has 135 staff across four offices in Bradford, Leeds, Harrogate and Ilkley. The firm has a turnover of around £6m and has 21 partners.

In the first half of 2015 LCF merged with Barber Titleys in Harrogate. “Barber Titleys have a tradition in personal law and property,” says Mr Stell, explaining the thinking behind the merger.

LCF is not the only firm to have undertaken a merger in recent years. The wider legal sector has seen lots of consolidation.

Mr Stell said: “There’s an increasing number of mergers in the legal sector because although the recession was eight years ago there’s still the fallout from that.

“There’s probably too many law firms for the available work out there for all to succeed. By merging one gains greater strength, greater expertise and greater services.”

He added that he doesn’t see the merger activity abating for the next 12 months. On whether LCF was eyeing any further merger opportunities, Mr Stell says they haven’t got any “immediate plans”.

“We keep our eyes open for opportunities to arise. That might be adding new services or if an opportunity for a merger arises we’ll look at it,” he added.

Mr Stell said “It’s probably still too early to say,” what the impact of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will be on legal services.

In the run-up to and straight after the vote, corporate transactions related to property and business disposal slowed.

“There was uncertainty immediately following the vote. Then six weeks, two months down the line it all calmed down again because nothing in reality had changed,” Mr Stell says.

Looking back on his career so far, Mr Stell can be proud of what he has achieved in his home city of Bradford.

“I’d like to think that we’ve created a legacy of a successful law firm that will continue to provide jobs and security for our loyal staff and provide excellent legal services to customers across the region,” he says.

Simon Stell factfile:

Title: Managing partner

Date of birth: January 14, 1955

Lives: Ilkley

Favourite holiday destination: Los Alcazares Spain

Last book read: The Pressure Principle – Dr Dave Alred

Favourite film: The Blues Brothers

Favourite song: Wake me up – Avicii

Car driven: Audi Q3

Most proud of: My family

Education: Bradford Grammar School; University of Birmingham (LLB); Nottingham Trent University (MBA in Legal Services)