Lets get down to business – Henley Standard
Peter Hopkins is the managing partner and co-owner of Mercers Solicitors. He has lived in the centre of Henley with his wife Caroline for 27 years.
Describe your business
Mercers was formed in 1827 by Nicholas Mercer, who was president of the Law Society, so we are the oldest and largest Henley law firm. We provide good legal advice about buying or selling properties, resolving all sorts of disputes and advising people about their wills, trusts, probates, tax compliance and powers of attorney.
How many people does it employ?
Thirty-six. Many of our team have been with us for years and in some cases 20 or 30.
What did you do before you joined the business?
I was a solicitor in central London. I commuted for five years so living and walking to work in Henley provides a good work-life balance.
How has your business pivoted since the coronavirus pandemic?
In January 2020 we all worked at our two offices in New Street and Bell Street, but were planning to go paperless to enable more homeworking, cut paper and ink costs and reduce our carbon footprint. Two months later, in the first lockdown, we found ourselves working from home and paperless. Our excellent business support team had a business continuity plan for remote working and everyone in the firm worked hard to adapt quickly. Three years on, we remain paperless and most people in the firm work from home a few days a week, taking a lot of cars off the road. We almost halved our carbon footprint in 2021 by closing the Bell Street branch office, using LED lights, moving to a renewable-source electricity supplier (Good Energy) and going paperless.
How is your business doing?
Demand for all legal services is steady, although the frequent rises in interest rates have caused some conveyancing chains to stall while buyers have to scramble around.
How do you market your business/service?
Apart from our website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and the Henley Standard, we support local events and groups where we are personally involved such as the Henley Farm & Country Show, Greener Henley’s Great Big Green Week, Henley Amateur and Operatic Dramatic Society and the Henley Players shows in the Kenton Theatre.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
The freedom and flexibility to make our own decisions.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Finding time to do quiet work undisturbed and coping with so many new government regulations about running a legal practice.
Where is your business headed?
We have some excellent young lawyers so we hope we remain independent and local and we are grateful to all our clients for their loyal support over many years.
How important are online sales?
For our website we use a Henley company, RiWeb, owned by Ryan Irving.
Do you have a five-year plan?
Yes, the business is planning ahead, taking important steps now but always looking ahead.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is king — an old saying but so true. Also, nothing is ever quite as good, or as bad, as at first it seems.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Speak to as many other business owners as you can as they’ll always give helpful advice.
What three qualities are most important to success?
Having the right culture, working hard and giving consistently good service from start to finish.
What’s the secret of your success?
We admire the famous phrase from John Lewis: “A nice place to work is a nice place to shop”, so we try to have a fair, friendly and supportive atmosphere.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Stupidly agreeing to play in an old boys’ rugby match against my old school when I was in my twenties and not fit enough — and getting a cervical spine injury in the scrum. It has been a real pain in the neck ever since but the chiropractors at Back in Line have given expert help to manage the consequences. Life lesson — get fit, strong and flexible to avoid injuries.
How organised are you?
I set a good example with our firm’s clean-desk policy and the Outlook calendar is so easy to use. No more paper diaries.
How do you dress for work each day?
Smart casual, suits for court or mediations in London. It is important to look smart but that doesn’t mean a boring suit. Staff much prefer to wear their own smart casual clothes when possible.
What can’t you do without every day?
Stretching (a lot).
Lunch at your desk or going out?
A mixture and occasionally I can nip home. On Fridays, those who are in the office go out to the Bull for a drink and some food together.
Do you continue to study?
Like many professionals, we are required to do many hours of Continuing Professional Development each year.
What do you read?
Michael Connelly or Richard Osman (crime fiction) on holiday, or true crime. The best book I read recently was Unlawful Killings by Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC about cases she tried in the Old Bailey.
How are you planning for retirement?
I will reduce my days gradually when the time comes.
Interview by Will Hamilton, for the Henley Standard