At the end of 2018 long-time Allen & Overy Partner Hugh Owen announced that, after 23 years at A&O — 19 of which were spent in CEE — he was stepping away from that Magic Circle firm to start his own consulting firm, called Go2Law. A year later, we checked in on him.
It has been a little over a year since I retired as a Partner at Allen & Overy and became a Consultant. It has been a fascinating episode of my life.
While I made the decision to retire in a very rational way, I still found myself shortly after the decision thinking: “What have I done?” A myriad of emotions ran through me: fear, relief, excitement, a sense of being slightly lost, fear, a loss of confidence, confusion. Did I mention fear?
I had worked for the same firm for 23 years, with a huge platform, allowing me to take so much for granted. When you set out on your own, you suddenly have to address really basic questions, like what is my IT system going to be, how do I create a website and what should it look like, how do I set up a law firm, and so on. Things which of course many of you already experienced some time ago.
Suddenly I felt very alone. Maybe I needed a law firm platform after all? A number of firms spoke to me about joining them, and that was a very positive experience. I learned a lot, and I had some very open and interesting discussions, for once being able to talk to people about their plans and goals – not just from across the negotiating table, and not speaking to them only as competitors.
But after much thought, I decided eventually to stay where I was, and I set up my own new little law firm. I wanted to focus on work that was specifically deal-oriented, satisfying my taste for the battle-smoke of tough negotiations.
Then, bit by bit, other people started to call me. Former colleagues, and lawyers from SEE relationship firms, asked how I was doing, and whether I was still available to help. Previous clients called too, sometimes to work out how I could continue to support them, and sometimes just for a friendly chat. And sometimes other law firms that I hadn’t worked with before began to call me as well to ask if we could work together.
I started to realize that these friendships, built over many – 15, sometimes 20 – years, were real, and that they mattered. And that people were interested in me as a human being and not just a service-provider. I experienced an affirmation of goodwill and good nature that should give all of us courage and hope that many things are possible with a little help from your friends.
And talking of friends, we turn to how things worked out with my former firm. Well, not only did A&O provide formal support on my transition into “civilian” life, but pretty much all of the people at the firm that I had worked with over the years got in touch too. They asked, “Ok, so how will we continue to work together?”
So I decided that I would like to continue to work as a Consultant, as part of the A&O team, on a non-exclusive basis. As a result, since I retired as a partner I have already worked on around ten transactions with my former A&O colleagues. But I have also worked with some of A&O’s relationship firms, and some entirely new firms, on another seven transactions as well.
But more than that, my former colleagues at A&O still invite me to the off-sites, and still invite me to some events, not as a formality to an alumnus, but just because we still like spending time together. And perhaps it is this element that most pleasantly surprised me. A partner at a SEE law firm signed off one conversation with: “Don’t forget you worked for nearly quarter of a century with a Magic Circle Firm.” The professionalism and friendship extended to me from A&O in the past year or so since I left the firm means a great deal.
The Go2Law set-up seems to work very well: those who want to work with me alongside A&O can still do so; those who for various reasons would like to work with me as Go2Law can do so too. The role can be as large or small as suits the client. Everyone is a winner, because you get what you need, when you need it. And I don’t really worry too much any more when there isn’t something to do for a few days. Actually, I really enjoy it.
From time to time I have put a few small comments out there on LinkedIn - a deal I just signed, usually, or a ranking in a legal directory. And while I would hardly want to be seen as some kind of social media junkie, this has also been a surprisingly strong source of encouragement. When you get 10,000-15,000 views (even if half of those views are probably people seeing it by accident), or x hundred “likes,” the fact that someone out there has taken the trouble just to give you that little thumbs up gives you a feeling that people actually care. Like a friendly wave.
So thanks to everyone for their support – and for reminding me that sometimes the smallest of actions can be a great help, support, and inspiration.
By Hugh Owen, Partner, Go2Law
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.12 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.