“We lived on credit cards”

"We lived on credit cards”

Guy and Chris Setford launched their innovative consultant-model law firm in 2006 ‘ with plans to make it the ‘Virgin’ of the legal world 

We didn’t come from wealthy families so we invested our own money to get Setfords up and running, Guy Setford, co-founder and co-CEO of Setfords law firm, tells me. This meant sacrificing personal income, we drew very little for some time and lived on credit cards to get through it. Guy and Chris Setford are cousins who were born in Kent and had a close relationship growing up. They both studied law at university before becoming qualified solicitors and went on to work at various firms across the UK. However, the pair quickly grew dissatisfied with the traditional partnership structure at law firms ‘ they knew there was a way to make it better. Guy and Chris had always envisioned building a business together one day, so they put their thinking caps on.  

On a sunny afternoon, the pair bought a pint and sat in a village pub to brainstorm their big business plan. It was not long before they came to a common consensus ‘ ‘traditional’ law firms were archaic. As teenagers, we had discussed building a business together, Guy tells me. We had become increasingly disillusioned with the traditional partnership model. We both had an entrepreneurial spirit where we found ourselves really interested in the idea of running our law firm. We wanted to remove all of the things that lawyers don’t want to do, providing them with the support they need and allowing them to benefit directly from the fees they earn, rather than letting their firms’ partners syphon off all of the profits. 

The pair wanted to create a practice where convention meets entrepreneurship ‘ so lawyers can also benefit from working at a firm. And that was when they hit their ‘Eureka’ moment. In 2006, the pair launched a full-service consultancy family law firm, Setfords, which steers away from traditional law firms with an innovative consultancy model that creates a transparent relationship with customers. 

Unlike regular law firms, lawyers profit directly from their work. They get to keep 80% of their fees. Consultant solicitors are also given extra support they need. Every client in Setfords has a dedicated senior lawyer through the whole legal process with no junior staff handling cases. Also, lawyers can work from home. Setfords is for lawyers who want to reach the top of their career journey more quickly than within a traditional firm where the aim is a partnership, Guy explains. Our model gives lawyers the control and freedom, flexibility and choice, a better work-life balance, and allows them to focus on their clients.

The early days of launching the firm wasn’t a walk in the park. Guy and Chris started out with a giant desk in a small office and just two employees. They built their business through word of mouth and invested all their life savings into the firm. The cousins lived on credit cards just to keep the law firm afloat. Through sheer determination and sacrifice, the pair continued to keep the firm alive, pay the bills, retain all their staff and continued growing the business.  

Speaking about his mindset, Guy said: We built up the firm together, it was based around the mutual love and respect we have for each other and shared commitment to the business, that trust and friendship lies at the heart of the firm. I would describe us as business people first and lawyers second so we are always looking at how to grow and develop. We definitely have an entrepreneurial spirit! 

And their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Setfords has peaked at £34million in revenue over the past year alone, a whopping 90% increase in the previous year. The firm is now the fastest organically growing practice in the UK, earning the 100th spot in the prestigious ‘The Lawyer UK Top 200’. The firm now has 400 lawyers on its books a 45% increase from last year, and is on track to meet its target of more than 1,000 by 2026. Setfords has also led the way in the legal market by securing private equity investment – only a handful of the country’s 10,000 law firms have been able to do so. Setfords has now has a 12,000 square foot state-of-the-art building in Guildford and a swanky central London office in Chancery Lane.  

Guy and Chris’ long-term goal is to make Setfords the ‘Virgin’ of the legal world, creating a nationally recognised brand as a go-to for private clients and businesses. The firm doesn’t just handle business law but also advises consumers on matters like conveyancing, wills and probate, and family disputes in an all-rounded approach. Setfords also has a model built around remote working ‘ and this has made them a big hit with lawyers. They’ve received thousands of applicants vying for a spot in the firm, with 160 applications in September alone. 

In a few words of advice to SMEs who are struggling post-pandemic, Guy shared a piece of advice: Most importantly, keep believing in your business and remember why you started it in the first place. If you believe and stay positive your people will too. This will reduce attrition and help maintain a culture that will be even stronger once the difficult times are over. Secondly, keep focusing on your core business, look to drive efficiencies where you can and don’t get distracted with side projects unless they enhance the core. Lastly don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your business partners. If you don’t have any talk to another business owner. A different perspective often helps – a problem shared is a problem halved.

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

Share via
Copy link