Paula Swain, new head of Shoosmiths’ Solent office, tells Tim Wickham why an imminent office move will allow the law firm to reinforce its values of pulling together and taking the initiative.
Shoosmiths is due to move to a new office in August. It may only require a short walk across the road in Whiteley’s Solent Business Park, but it represents a major step forward for the firm, according to head of office Paula Swain.
“It’s a large investment and a clear sign of our commitment to the area,” she said. “The new office allows a more effective use of space and brings people currently working on three floors onto one, with breakout and informal areas, which will improve collaboration.”
The office is also celebrating 25 years serving clients in the south, so a double set of celebratory events take place this summer.
She regards the move as a key point in the growth of the firm in the south. “Shoosmiths is an exciting place to be a lawyer. We have a really great group of people here who are excited about what they do,” said Swain, who expects staff numbers to rise in the next few months from 118 to 150.
Play to your strengths
Swain joined the firm in May 2016, after 17 years with Bournemouth-based Lester Aldridge, where she started as a graduate and worked her way up to partner. She specialises in litigation work across banking, commercial and asset finance.
After accepting Shoosmiths’ offer to help lead the Solent office’s B2B debt recovery team, Swain stepped into the head of office role last November, when Stephen Porter moved on to be the firm’s national head of corporate.
“This role fits very much with my philosophy of playing to your strengths. I think I’m good with people and regard my role as ‘chief pride officer’, responsible for uncovering excellence in colleagues, banging the drum for the firm in the region, and galvanising our efforts.”
Having been given a relatively free rein by the firm’s national leadership team, Swain is about to present a three-year plan for the Solent office that kicks off with the summer office move.
Her ambitious plan centres on attracting new talent and building market share. The Shoosmiths’ internal market is extremely important, where offices around the UK provide resources to each other. The external market covers clients from Devon and Dorset to Kent.
“Many of our clients are disruptor businesses and they expect us to think differently about how we deliver a service to them. My aim is for us to continuously challenge how we work,” she commented. “An important benefit for our clients is connecting people, for example, by linking them to the expertise and resources of the wider Shoosmiths’ network.”
Swain identified major local opportunities for the firm in three key sectors: digital, education and financial services.
“We have a growing number of experts focused on digital businesses in areas like competition law, regulation, IP and commercialising ideas. The South Coast from Bournemouth to Brighton is thriving for digital, and this will increase with 5G.”
She’s also keen to build relationships with the region’s 16 universities. “We help universities commercialise new ideas, particularly spin-offs, as well as supporting them on major infrastructure developments as they expand,” she said.
The firm already has a significant footprint in the financial services sector. “We are seeing a lot of new entrants, for example, fintech companies and entrepreneurial businesses. Our aim is to get on board early in their development to help them through their growth stages,” said Swain.
The Solent area is set fair for growth, she believes. “We expect Southampton to go through a prolonged growth spurt in the next 10 or 15 years. There’s so much development going on already, especially at Fawley and around the airport. Portsmouth, too, is growing with a new business park and improvements to the M27.”