Peter Campbell, partner at law firm BLM, speaks with Emma Deighan about why growth at the company is a certainty and how new plans could drive claims costs
Peter Campbell, partner at BLM law firm, is currently dealing with the fallout of a closed court in Co Cork. It's probably the start of many backlogs for the insurance risk and commercial law practice as contingency plans around the coronavirus take hold, he tells the Belfast Telegraph.
"Yesterday was a very strange day," he begins. "After Leo Varadkar's announcement we had a very advanced crisis management plan in place which we implemented, but we didn't expect the Taoiseach to encourage home working in the way that he did, but we have a good number of home workers and it took a great part of the day to get things in place and ensure we had staff in the office who could scan and post on to the system."
The Cork circuit, he goes on, was closed as the result of a barrister testing positive for the virus.
A notice was circulated that the courthouse would close temporarily with immediate effect.
"That's a full list of cases for us that won't be completed yet," he continues.
The backlog will mean a cash flow implication for clients says Peter, who is still very much open for business in all other areas of Ireland and the company's 13 other offices. But that too could change.
A Strabane native, Peter Campbell grew up in a "very happy household" as one of five children.
"As I reflect back, I think of Donegal with more fondness because that has a lifelong connection," he says. "I attended a local primary school and because of circumstances I went to boarding school at the age of 11.
"It was a necessary at the time and the education was good, but it was isolated," adds Peter, who initially trained in accountancy.
"When I was 18 I went to Dublin, to Trinity, to study accountancy because I did and still do enjoy maths. I am relatively numerate and comfortable with figures but the reason I chose not to be an accountant was because I discovered it didn't really have anything to do with maths."
After his degree he continued his studies in international economics.
His father had his own law firm in Derry where Peter undertook training. "I was going to do a masters degree and decided not to so I did a training contract with him and a conversion course a Queen's University. I qualified in the mid '80s," he says.
Roddy RB Campbell was the name of his father's firm, and post-qualification Peter took up a role in the Belfast office.
He describes the firm as a "mixed country practice with an area of specialism insurance law" and that foundation has stayed the core of the company through a number of mergers.
He adds: "We then became Campbell Fitzpatrick in 1997 and I would've been instrumental in that merger."
In 2014 the company merged with BLM. Peter's role is head of business in Ireland with responsibility for the Belfast and Derry offices.
BLM is an insurance risk and commercial law firm with both a domestic and international focus working with an increasing number of clients, across more lines of business, in more locations throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as across the world.
Fundamentally it helps businesses reduce time spent on managing risk and resolving disputes by offering practical, commercial and solutions.
It acts for companies working on instruction from their insurance firms in the areas of professional indemnity, product liability and more.
"We've also got a very vibrant fraud department," adds Peter. "There is good faith in litigation but that doesn't always follow through. The nature of it means that it does need to be tested on veracity.
"We have a number of solicitors working exclusively on that and there is still a reasonable volume of claims that are fraudulent. That's a broad school; from fabricated claims to exaggeration of what did happen after an accident occurs," he explains.
In other areas of insurance, Peter and his team work with a large motor department, dealing with defence of motor claims.
Looking at the overall playing field in his area of law, Peter foresees proposals put forward by Justice Minister Naomi Long to introduce a discount rate to determine an end point of compensation will drive up claims costs.
The bid to change the discount rate, to minus 1.75% he says "will have a significant impact".
"It's very bad news for insurance firms, the health service and it will be very costly, but it is good news for injured parties who have suffered catastrophic injuries and a loss of earnings."
Ensuring he has the best team in place for the most challenging of cases, Peter says BLM's structured approach to safeguarding talent is what will drive it forward to become a larger business.
"We've been through two mergers and I think there is an inevitability that law firms will increase in size and I don't see that trend stopping. So at this stage law firms need to go big or go boutique.
"We have a fantastic workforce and I take pride in our approach to their career path so that they know there is a future ahead of them and that's important because if take the large operations that have opened here, including Allen and Ovary and Baker MacKenzie, they employ a large number of people, creating a more competitive environment for the recruitment of people.
"Our staff tend to be very loyal for the reason that we do offer them a career path."
Peter, who's a father of four kids, won't see his children follow him into the law field, and it's not something he's concerned about.
"One studied law but is now a teacher - we all have our different interests," he says.
Married to an orthopaedic nurse, Peter spends most of his time outside of the office taking part in sports. Fitness is a trait that runs throughout the Campbell household.
"It's very much part of me and defines me. I still exercise six times a week. I run and cycle and I do that primarily to keep up my fitness for skiing."
Peter has travelled globally with his passion and two of his children skied for Ireland and his eldest is a skiing instructor.
"My favourite was Svalbard, around 800 miles from the North Pole. The remoteness was what I loved most about there. We took a six-hour ride into camp and stayed there for eight days. There were no lifts, it was all walking."
Beyond the snowy peaks of some of the world's most impressive ski destinations, Peter enjoys watching Ulster Rugby as a season ticket holder.
"There's no question that our lifestyles are becoming increasingly sedentary and with life stuck at a computer I really enjoy the great outdoors. Most of my holidays involve mountains in some form," he concludes.
Q: What's the best piece of business (or life) advice you've ever been given?
A: My father often said, "If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well." I embrace this in all walks of life.
Q: How would you describe your early life?
A: Both busy and very happy. I grew up in Strabane, the middle of five children. However, when I reflect on my childhood I more associate it with Donegal rather than Strabane as we would have spent our family holidays there.
Q: What piece of advice would you pass on to someone starting out in business?
A: Always maintain clarity of thought and purpose. It will keep you on the right path.
Q: What was your best business decision?
A: Although a solicitor, I took my degree in accountancy and business. This has always served me well.
Q: If you weren't doing this job, what would be your other career?
A: I love the outdoors and mountains and skiing in particular. Therefore some type of mountain guiding position would tick all my boxes: endorphins, adrenaline and fantastic scenery.
Q: What was your last holiday? Where are you going next?
A: I was in Italy skiing a few weeks ago, just before the lockdown! Given the current travel restrictions I am unsure when my next holiday might be but am hoping to go cycling in France in July.
Q: What are your hobbies/interests?
A: Mostly sporting interests. I run, cycle and do circuit classes six days a week. I am a keen snow skier and cannot ever quite get enough of it.
Q: What is your favourite sport and team?
A: I am a rugby fan and a season ticket holder at Kingspan and sometimes go to the Aviva Stadium to see Ireland. I saw Ireland beat Scotland earlier this year.
Q: And have you ever played any sports?
A: As well as running, cycling and skiing I have in the past also played tennis and was a keen windsurfer until my back decided I ought to stop!
Q: If you enjoy reading, can you recommend a book?
A: I do yes. I enjoy factual books, biography, autobiography and business books. I recently read Extreme Ownership, a book by two US Navy Seals. It was a very good business book, but a very easy read. I am also an avid reader of The Economist. Every edition seems to have at least one interesting article.
Q: Have you any economic predictions?
A: I suppose that the uncertainty around Covid-19 could be seen as a perfect storm after Brexit. However, equally we are a resilient bunch and as I am by nature an optimist, I am sure we will economically ride these stormy times and come through strongly.
Q: How would you assess your time in business with your company BLM?
A: I have been in BLM for just over five years and it has been a very rewarding time in business. Previously at Campbell Fitzpatrick decision-making was immediate and simple. In a larger organisation it is a more planned and bureaucratic process. But the success or otherwise must be judged by the growth we have achieved, which has been circa 33% over this five-year period.
Q: How do you sum up working in the legal/financial services sector?
A: It is a tremendously varied and challenging sector to work in. By the very nature of what we do we are highly regulated.
In any single day I can find myself proofing a witness for trial, carrying out some financial management such as reviewing budgets, participating in board meetings or advising a client on a variety of medical reports detailing serious injuries.
So, it is never boring and always challenging.