KNOWLEDGE IS KING

 

As a headstrong teenager, Nick Freeman did not have his heart set on becoming one of the country’s leading solicitors. Instead he wanted to emulate the success of Rory McIlroy and co. on the golf course.

Given this intro and the research I had done prior to meeting Nick I expect the interview to revolve around golf and the law, and be very matter of fact. I was wrong. We begin with the tale of George, his beloved Staffordshire Bull Terrier who joins us for the interview. The tale includes the engine in a Range Rover blowing up, dealing with a Beauceron (French police dog) and being stuck on a French Autoroute at 5:30am.

Once we are all settled in his Manchester offices (we are in a colleague’s office as Nick’s is ‘pokey and downstairs’) Nick begins to tell his story.

‘There were too reasons I was never going to be a professional golfer; I’m not good enough and I hate flying!’ At the time, however, that was his passion. Cleverly guided by his father at each stage of the educational decision tree with a supportive ‘might as well give it a go and see what happens’ Nick went on to graduate from Chester Law School in 1979.

‘My father’s logic was that if you have a professional qualification you can always earn a living. Now a parent myself with two grown up children, it’s difficult when making Uni decisions today – it’s not easy to find something you enjoy.

‘We (Nick and his father) made an agreement: If I couldn’t find myself a job earning over £10,000 a year he would sponsor me in the golf arena for two years.’

This was the turning point. Whilst studying for his Articles in Nottingham a friend entered him into an advocacy competition which he won, turning down jobs in London and Hong Kong to work for Greater Manchester Police (GMP). ‘My referees were Judge Ivor Taylor QC and Brian Appleby QC. It was joked it would be a miracle if I didn’t win!’

Eminently respected in their fields, the two QCs clearly saw the potential of a young Mr Freeman and what he could achieve. ‘I loved it (prosecuting for GMP). Being in court was tough to begin with but when you face your fears it’s strange how you can end up loving it. If you’re in court, you’re on show and you have to know your stuff. There is no hiding. I suppose, without knowing it, my destiny was at stake.’

After just three months he was approached by one of the best criminal lawyers in Manchester at the time to join forces but honoured his two year agreement with GMP. In 1983 he left to set up Burton & Co with the aforementioned. For nearly 16 years the company expanded and expanded as did Nick’s reputation and he was soon made partner.

‘It was fascinating. You have a preconception about who robs a bank but the people I was working with were intelligent, articulate and fascinating. The Legal Aid work was heavy, very serious but the same people came back to us as paying clients with inevitable drink driving charges.

‘The law was so complex that, at the time, you couldn’t secure a conviction if the defence lawyer knew their stuff. Knowledge and substance is king. I spent a whole weekend in the Law library on Chester Street and wrote out, longhand, every case I could find.’

Win came after win, word of mouth spread and Nick’s reputation defending motoring offences rocketed. ‘Give me a case and let me get on with it. I’m not interested in the internal politics of the business.’ It was this that led Nick, in 1998 to resign from Burton & Co and set up his own practice.

‘I was frightened of failing at 42. I remember speaking with my friend Tony (Tighe of Mere Communications) about it whose response was ‘if I could buy shares in it now I would’ so I thought sod it – do it now! Denise, my PA, also said if I didn’t leave she was leaving me so that was that.’

Again, facing fears played a key part in the decision and in 1999, Nick’s first year in his own practice, Freeman & Co, he counted Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham and Ronnie O’Sullivan as his clients. The latter reportedly saying that if he played ‘half as well as my brief plays, I will be world champion’.

The high profile clients, inevitably, brought the attention of the media and the labelling by one reporter of Nick Freeman as Mr Loophole. ‘No, I didn’t like it. It sounded underhand and a bit sinister.’

Other journalists, however, picked up on it and started to use it to describe other lawyers. So, Nick embraced his new label and trademarked it so no one else could use it. ‘I’m not quite that stupid.’

Since then Freeman & Co has grown, renowned for its scrutiny and tenacity in the cases (not just motoring) which they take on. Nick still applies the same ethic to all cases – knowledge is king. The anecdotes he shares to demonstrate this are powerful and articulate; the life lesson that knowledge can be one of the most powerful arrows to your bow.

As a person I am quite endeared to Nick Freeman. As I interview him and, not forgetting George, we skip in and out of his story and life and despite his past relationships with the media, he is exceptionally candid.

He moved to Cheshire to ‘find himself a Jewish wife and prosecute the law’ (he has recently married Adi); he went to Uppingham School in Rutland and was classmates with Stephen Fry; he pops into Knutsford nearly every day; he regularly appears on the television and radio and is a legal commentator for The Sunday Times; he loves the South of France and wide open spaces (he prefers convertibles for this reason); he advised on the recent Justin Bowman case which was in the media; he is frustrated by our legal system at times; he still plays golf and has a handicap of 2.8 and George goes with him; and he believes we live in a stressful, pressurised country compared to France, having just confessed that textbooks are his holiday read and suggesting I take his book with me on mine. If it’s as interesting as the last hour’s conversation, I may just do that.

For The Cheshire Magazine, 2014

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