Martin Pate: Lessons I learnt setting up my own legal practice

Martin Pate and his team at MJP Law at the opening of the Fenrdown office by the local Mayor

Martin Pate and his team at MJP Law at the opening of the Fenrdown office by the local Mayor - Credit: Archant

Martin Pate, founder of MJP Law, recalls the brave step he took to start his legal practice and the important lessons he learnt along the way about setting up your own business

A business partnership is like a marriage, there are good times and there are bad times and sometimes setting off unencumbered on a new path is what is needed. On 1st May 2007 I set up my own business, in this case a law practice. Encouraged by others and supported by my wife Wendy, I was full of high hopes and had a clear vision about how a modern legal practice would work.

Looking back now, it was a rash thing to do; giving up a salary and prospects, to start from scratch. The first six months I worked in my living room; that gave me a chance to focus on how I could create a new and different practice: client focused, with transparency over fees, plain language, and accessibility and use of modern technology.

The time came when the steady flow of divorce clients coming to the house, often in a state of high emotion, became wearisome and apparently it was upsetting our sensitive Dalmatian, Hugo. Driving around my local area in East Dorset, I noticed an empty shop on Ringwood Road. Negotiations followed, and MJP Law opened its first official office in Verwood, in February 2007, occupied by myself and my very part time assistant.

Just like all fledgling businesses we hoped for a steady stream of clients. Sadly, this was not the case. I still had my existing clients, but this was not going to last. Then one day one of the many visiting salesmen who regularly popped in suggested ‘networking’. Back then this was a strange concept to me: you meet third parties and you sell yourself. Most unseemly to a qualified lawyer who was used to being given work. But I needed to generate more business so very early one morning I walked into a room full of strangers, who all followed an American-style mantra called the BNI (Business Network Institute). What was I doing sitting next to a photocopier salesman trying to eat a full English breakfast and pitching to him? Then it clicked. These people were no different to me. They all had their own businesses, they all needed more work and were prepared to go and find it. As I now say; if your ship doesn’t come in, you swim out to meet it!

I started to network and slowly work came in. Combining this with client focused practices of accessibility, openness, fixed fees, regularly communicating in plain English and doing a first rate job, I soon employed my first member of staff as a full time secretary and then a trainee solicitor.

Some 10 years later, MJP Law are still operating these same principles, we now have 45 staff spread over five offices: a much larger one in Verwood, this was followed by Wimborne, Kinson, Ferndown and Westbourne. My trainee solicitor, Lisa Lane, is now a Director and my first secretary Clare Banks, is an integral part of the Verwood Office.

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We are one of the fastest growing legal practices locally and we are a modern paperless IT driven company. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary I know that this success could not have happened without our clients, hard working and dedicated staff and finally my wonderful wife Wendy without whose support none of this would have been possible.

About Martin Pate

Martin is Managing Director and founder of MJP Law which is a LEXCEL firm. His specialist areas are Divorce and Civil Litigation. Martin is also a fully qualified Offshore Yachtsmaster and says his guilty pleasure is tinkering with his Triumph motorbike. MJP Law has offices in Wimborne, Bournemouth, Verwood, Westbourne & Ferndown. Find out more at or call 01202 752525.

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