Law firm expects rapid growth to continue
When Michael Hanson set about creating a law firm from scratch, he had a clear idea about how to approach the task.
In November 2017, the Bermudian lawyer left a partnership position at Appleby and the next day registered as a sole proprietor trading as Carey Olsen Bermuda, the local outpost of an international firm with offices in British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, Cape Town, Hong Kong, London and Singapore.
Today, less than two years after starting up, the Bermuda firm has 14 lawyers — including eight Bermudians. The firm has 25 overall staff and is hunting for new office space having outgrown its digs at Atlantic House on Par-la-Ville Road.
The firm’s rapid growth has validated Mr Hanson’s belief that the market was ready for more competition.
“Doing something from the ground up, without an existing structure, was extremely attractive to me,” Mr Hanson, 39, said. “I certainly felt it was a huge risk. We could be sitting here with one person. But I felt that focusing on the Bermuda market, and being competitive in this space, would bear fruit.”
To become competitive he knew that he wanted to create a culture of excellence, a talented, hard-working group who provided top-level service.
To do so, he naturally was interested in experienced lawyers working at well-established firms. But he also took a less well-travelled path, reaching out to Bermudian lawyers working in other jurisdictions, and attracting lawyers on-island who were not working in a traditional law firm environment.
“We tried to find out where the good Bermudian lawyers were who had left the island,” Mr Hanson recalls. “We didn’t want to be Conyers, or Appleby. We wanted people who had not worked in Bermuda to help build our culture here. We sniffed it out. Also, some lawyers had heard of us and contacted us.
“We also targeted Bermudian lawyers who were not in law firms, who were working in-house. Having lawyers who have worked inside companies as general counsel, or as compliance officers, gives us a unique selling point. They have walked in the shoes of our clients.”
Mr Hanson added: “Our business model was to attract the local market, and the way to do that is to get the best lawyers in the local market. We recruited staff using a benchmarking test versus the UK. We put less emphasis on who you know, and where you went to school. You had to pass the test, and the interview process, which was quite rigorous. We also let people know that it would be hard work here.”
Seasoned lawyers Keith Robinson and Gavin Woods have joined from Appleby, while Mary Ward left Conyers to join the firm. All are now partners at Carey Olsen.
Bermudian counsel Henry Tucker joined the firm, Adam Bathgate arrived from Carey Olsen’s Cayman office, while Ashley Fife came over from Appleby, and Bermudian Sam Stevens returned home from a position in London.
Senior Bermudian associates Kyle Masters (Digicel) and Cheri Minors (Colonial) moved to the billable hours environment from in-house positions, while Bermudian Jay Webster arrived from a London firm.
Bermudian associate Michelle Falcucci returned from London, too, while fellow Bermudian associates Keivon Simons and Jennifer Woods also joined the firm.
The firm’s practice focuses on corporate, trusts, litigation, and employment matters. The biggest growth area has been litigation, Mr Hanson says, while the corporate practice is gaining traction, too.
The association with international firm Carey Olsen has proved beneficial. Mr Hanson said: “We get fantastic support without being told what to do. The Carey Olsen group tries to support each jurisdiction in what it wants to do. They think that the people who know best are the people here on the ground. The group respects and supports that.
“In Bermuda, we do what is necessary to build the business here and have the full assistance of the firm. It has proved correct to focus on the Bermuda market and compete on the international stage with a proper brand behind you.”
Mr Hanson expects the office will have a total of 50 staff within the next two years. That is a far cry from the firm’s beginnings; Mr Hanson initially worked out of his garage, not moving to the firm’s current 5,000-square foot space until February 2018.
A move to a larger office is imminent. “Our lawyers are sharing offices, and our pods are full,” Mr Hanson said. “We want to move asap into a space that is 10,000 to 15,000-square feet. Of course, that is not what we budgeted for. But it’s a good problem to have.”
Some of the firm’s future growth may be at the expense of its competitors, Mr Hanson acknowledged.
“We are respectful and friendly with other firms,” he said. “We are not going out of our way to annoy them. My kids play with the partners of other firms’ kids. We do things properly and ethically, but we are here to compete.”
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