What’s your name and current role at Altior?
I’m John Loosemore and I’m a trainer specialising in Advocacy at Altior. I initially set up Lawyers Planning Services, which evolved into what is now ‘Altior’, but more on that a little later…
What was your professional history prior to setting up Altior 40 years ago?
I trained as an economist and moved into law in the mid-1960s, setting up my own practice Loosemores (which was either very bold or very rash, you can decide on that one). Very early on, I hired Rob Parsons and he and I became the joint managing partners of the law firm. In those days, legal practice was very restrictive – there was no advertising, no self-promotion and lots of ‘petty’ rules and regulations. The only advertising you could do was put up a brass name plate outside your office. So, we decided the only way to expand our law firm was to set up locations around Cardiff and Newport in the most prominent locations and we ended up with 11 offices in total. Loosemores became well-known in South Wales and the practice grew considerably to become one of the biggest firms in the area. During this time, we also campaigned for liberalisation on the marketing of law firms in the face of massive competition from accountants and other professional services organisations for legal work. So, we became known nationally for that campaign too.
Why did you decide to set up Altior?
One day, Rob and I went to a lecture in Bristol about the management of a law firm and we came away saying, “We could do this better ourselves”. And that’s the beginning of Altior – or Lawyers Planning Services, which it initially was in 1979. We started lecturing (primarily) partners in law firms throughout the UK on how to manage your law firm. Back then, lawyers had little to no training on management and leadership, limited training on financial skills and no training in people skills – so we decided that this was a great opportunity, particularly as it coincided with the Law Society introducing a scheme of compulsory further training for qualified solicitors.
We carried on running the law firm but very quickly, Lawyers Planning Services began to take over our working lives. We ran seminars in prime locations (London Hilton Park Lane, for example) and regularly, 300 law firms’ partners would come from all over the UK to hear us speak. The first course was called ‘How to Expand your Practice’, the second was called ‘What They Didn’t Teach you in Law School’ and we initially we ran these courses all over England and Wales. We were then invited to other major cities like Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh because wherever we went, people wanted answers about expanding their law firm and managing it efficiently. Ultimately, we were able to motivate partners in law firms to go-for-it! As a result of what we did in the UK, we got invited all over the world, lecturing in Australia for six years, South Africa and North America too.
We also developed a consultancy practice because law firms were continually asking for personal support which saw us working with law firms all across the world to help achieve their goals. I had an amazing session with a firm in Dubai – an incredible multicultural organisation – and we then realised we had to broaden what we did with Rob Parsons developing a training course on stress management in particular. He was well ahead of the market – now everyone is talking about mental health, and rightly so, and Rob’s sessions for partners in law firms were ahead of the curve and really well received. Early in the 1990s, the Law Society introduced the Professional Skills Course (PSC), compulsory for trainee solicitors. This was a huge opportunity for us as the syllabus covered much of the skills training we had pioneered for qualified solicitors – client care, professional standards and financial and business skills – and added advocacy training for which we devised several mock civil and criminal trials. We were one of the first providers to be authorised by the Law Society to run PSC.
We believe you learn more if you have some fun during training and our advocacy training is a great example of this. Although the prospect of 3 days of mock trials is pretty daunting for trainees, they quickly enter into the spirit of things playing a variety of advocacy roles before their tutor who acts as Judge, as well as assessing and feeding back positively on each trainee’s performance. Frequently, during feedback, the group collapses into laughter as, inevitably the occasional mistake is made!
When Rob retired in the 1990s, I was running the show as the chief executive. And when Rob left, we changed our name to ‘Altior’ to symbolise taking people higher in their achievements as we think the biggest asset law firms have is their people. We actually put this into practice – it’s become a cliché but putting people first and listening to them was our main driving force.
Then, my eldest son, Mark Loosemore who had experience in a big firm in London decided to come back to Cardiff and I handed over the reins to him and he became chief executive of Altior. He developed the business further, realising that there was a larger market in London which he then developed further afield, looking to Manchester and Birmingham too. In 2008, Mark was approached by Kaplan. The business was developing a law school in London as the first stage of training for people post law degree and they wanted to partner with Altior. So, they bought us out and continued to build on our foundations. We still have a good working relationship and for that I’m so grateful, especially as the business enters its new phase as BARBRI Altior.
What challenges did you face?
It’s a question of always staying ahead of the market. Over the period of our development, lots of competitors entered the market – some of whom were really good. I believe it’s a much tougher marketplace today, but I think Altior is still ahead of the curve because now it’s leading the way in terms of training for the SQE, as well as shaping tailored training for in-house teams, something that there has been a real demand for. It’s just about taking things forward all of the time – you either go forward or you go back.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry over the past four decades?
The biggest change in the profession is that the legal profession is now run in a very business-like way and I believe we contributed considerably to that change through the hearts and minds of managing partners in law firms. People are now much better trained than they ever were. For example, I never had any training in advocacy – I rocked up on day one after qualifying and the partner of my firm handed me a file and said, “Here you go, you’re in court in an hour”. The training is now very specialised. Altior developed HRA training and that was a very important step because the Government and the SRA broadened things so that if solicitors had Higher Rights training, they could practice in the same courts as barristers. That was a massive challenge for us but fortunately we took on people who were qualified themselves as Higher Rights Advocates and were able to train people in Higher Rights. That’s a big strength.
Any other comments?
I owe so much to the people I’ve worked with including Rob Parsons and my son Mark Loosemore and not least to my wife Pam, who’s coped admirably with me and my work over the years. I will always love training and my greatest delight at the moment is helping my 12 grandchildren with their development, whether it’s homework or philosophical issues that young people deal with today.