KPMG · 16 December 2016

Pathfynder: The small law firm with big ideas

The new law firm specialising in immigration law
The new law firm specialising in immigration law

Law firm Pathfynder specialises in immigration advice for individuals who want to work or stay in the UK. We caught up with Shahjahan Ali to find out how the business has evolved since its launch in June 2016.

Ali started the company earlier this year, and can tailor his offering for individuals or employers seeking immigration advice. He works with both investor entrepreneurs and large organisations looking to transfer overseas staff to the UK.

With Brexit on the horizon, this is one business that could see an influx of work from all the uncertainty.

“I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen but all the noise and all the conflicting messages out there has caused a lot of concern for a lot of people.

“Some people have been here for thirty years as European nationals and they’ve never thought to get a British passport – now they’re considering it because there are comments in the press that people like that might be required to leave.”

In addition, Ali’s law firm advises all over the world – especially BRIC countries – where people are looking to invest in the UK.

Competition in the market is tough – according to Ali there are many immigration firms, some which focus exclusively on UK immigration law, some which deal with a full range of services an offer immigration law as part of that. Ali hopes to differentiate his company by positioning himself as an immigration expert.

“I’m on the panel of experts for LexisNexis and I also contribute to West Law’s UK insights, which allows me to take a different view to my competition,” he explained.

Ali’s ethos is to “deliver leading edge legal advice and superior service” as he believes it is important to put the client at the centre of everything he does in order to be as responsive and reassuring as possible.

Getting started

The biggest challenge for Ali so far has been going through the initial authorisation process. He explained: “Setting up a law firm you have to make an application to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to authorise your firm.

“The application process itself is quite involved – you have to provide a business plan, cash flow forecast, you have to obtain professional indemnity insurance and so on. The process was quite challenging.”

One thing Ali was sure of from the beginning though was that he didn’t want to cut corners with his law firm. He noticed that other people he knew starting their own businesses sought to keep costs low by not taking on professional advisors.

“I’ve taken a slightly different approach in that I’ve taken on the best professional advice I could get a hold of. Just to guide me through the issues instead of just winging it,” he said.

One such professional advisor has been KPMG Small Business Accounting. “Working with KPMG has been quite interesting. I have a particular style of working and strangely I’ve found them to work in a very similar manner.

“I genuinely felt as though they had a small business mind set, I didn’t feel as though I was just another client they had to process.”

Recruiting the best

Ali is the only employee at the law firm, operating out of a small office in Shoreditch, but at the time of writing he was in the process of recruiting with plans for rapid expansion in the near future.

Ali is looking for experienced practitioners, but admitted it’s difficult knowing what a small business has to offer. It is risky to give up a comfortable job, but he argued that working for Pathfynder an employee would have an opportunity to learn much more and develop their own expertise in immigration law.

Looking to the future, Ali is confident with his ambitious growth plans – once he starts hiring he expects to expand at a fairly quick pace. Partly, this confidence comes from his firm handle on the market.

“The best piece of advice I’ve been given is just to really know your market well,” he said.

“While I was setting up, I didn’t feel like there were many unknowns, I felt like I had a good grasp. If I’d entered a different market,well, I wouldn’t have!”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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