Two single mums who took "a leap of faith" by quitting their jobs to launch a no-win no-fee law firm have paid tribute to De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) for setting them on the path to success.
Law graduates Sue Roberts and Nicola Kitchener turned their backs on the security of long-held jobs in an established legal practice to set up their own personal injury solicitors back in 2008.
Eight years on, the Leicester-based Affinity Law has 16 staff on the payroll - and Sue and Nicola have returned to their old university to snap up Law graduates as the business expands.
Legal executive Sue, who graduated from DMU-forerunner Leicester Polytechnic in the late 1980s, said it was a daunting step for "two single parents, with five daughters between us" but felt the time was right to act.
"After more than 20 years, I felt I'd reached the glass ceiling," she said. "I wasn't going to progress any further and I wasn't going to be made a partner.
"I just thought, 'if I don't make this move, I'm going to stay here for the rest of my life'. It was a case of making a leap of faith or staying in my comfort zone, and never really pushing myself.
"I said to Nicky, 'this is a chance for you to walk away from your regular income and security and embrace a new challenge'."
But it wasn't simply a case of itchy feet. The opportunity was there too. A shake-up of the regulations meant for the first time, legal executives were allowed to set up their own firms.
"I became the first female partner in the Midlands, and was invited to the Houses of Parliament," said Sue. "A lady pipped me to the post as the first in the country, by just one day."
The two started in Leicester's legal heartland, with a base in Friar Lane. "It was just the two of us, in an office with a kettle and a pile of envelopes," said Sue. "We shared the responsibilities, and divided up the duties.
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"All the ideas we'd never been allowed to try at our previous firm, we thought, right, let's do them. And do you know what? They work.
"Before we knew it, the phone was ringing. A lot. Within a few weeks, we took on a secretary, then another. Then we bought an office on New Walk. And now there are 16 of us.
"We have recruited four Law students to date from DMU, including graduates Kate Harrison and Jules Oliver. We certainly will continue to recruit from DMU in the future."
Affinity Law, which has a turnover of £1.5 million, handles all aspects of personal injury claims, from car crashes to accidents at work and medical negligence claims. "Unfortunately that's a very busy area, as the NHS is in such a mess," said Sue.
Nicola specialises in child abuse cases, and represents some of the alleged victims of former Leicester MP Greville Janner, who had been accused of 22 counts of historical sex offences, but who died before a 'trial of the facts' could take place.
Personal injury is a booming market for law firms, so how does Affinity stand out from the crowd?
"We go and see every client and we're at their side at home or hospital," said Sue. "We give them our personal phone numbers and support them throughout their claim. All our work is based on recommendation."
The approach is paying dividends.
"At the beginning, we worked out 10 cases a month meant we could break even and survive," said Sue. "But the level of work we do is phenomenal. The firm is going from strength to strength.
"I was a working-class girl with six GCSEs and a job in the county court. I didn't have the opportunity to go off to university. I took evening classes at Leicester Polytechnic to become a Legal Executive. Nicky was a secretary in a law firm and took her degree part-time. She's a brilliant example of how a girl from the bottom can go all the way to the top.
"Our law qualifications from DMU have opened doors for us. Mine has got me where I am today."
Posted on Tuesday 31st January 2017