Emma Carey interview: a culture of caring with MSB Solicitors’ managing partner
When Emma Carey joined Liverpool-based MSB Solicitors in 1999 she was its first female trainee.
Two decades later the now managing partner reflects on a career of breaking new ground, achieving growth and recognition, and keeping social responsibility at the heart of the company.
Words by Natasha Young
MSB Solicitors has come a long way in 20 years, from expanding into Liverpool city centre and dramatically broadening its team to moving with the evolving law and the city’s diversifying communities.
Previously serving the north and south of Liverpool solely from suburban offices in Walton and Aigburth, the firm had around 25 employees and two partners when Emma Carey joined.
Flash forward through years of “steady and organic” growth, and MSB is a prominent player in the city’s legal sector with a 130-strong team.
According to Carey, who qualified in 2000 and has been on an upward trajectory with the company ever since, becoming its first female partner in 2007 and then its managing partner in 2018, the business development of MSB has been three-fold.
It is, she explains, based on a “commitment to excellence in client care,” educating staff and promoting lifelong learning through investment in people, and exercising social responsibility to ensure the firm gives back.
Carey has played a key role throughout her rise in putting those principals into action.
Having qualified at a time when solicitors broadly worked as general practitioners and, she recalls, were just starting to specialise in different areas of the law, Carey set up MSB’s family department.
“There was just me in the family department and I built it up to what it is today,” she tells Move Commercial. “There are 35 people in the department now, including 12 lawyers, two trainees and two consultants.”
Becoming the biggest department in the firm, its range of services has grown considerably over time due to the changing needs of clients.
“The modern family doesn’t reflect the family we knew 15 or 20 years ago,” explains Carey. “When I first qualified, divorce was my bread and butter. Divorce work, and finances and children ancillary to that.
“Whereas now that will be a small part of a family department when you’re dealing with things like abductions, surrogacy, forced marriage, honour-based violence and cohabitee disputes. There are so many issues affecting the diverse families that make up our communities.”
This evolution is in line with MSB’s company-wide ethos of building on its skills and developing its people to change with the industry and succeed with a loyal client base.
“Equality is something I’m personally passionate about and it’s something all businesses do need to keep at the top of their agenda. It has to be there until it no longer needs to be there.”
“The law changes, society changes and we need to be one step ahead to make sure we have the knowledge and expertise to meet the needs of clients,” says Carey. “Something we really wanted [MSB] to stand for, going back probably 15 years ago when we started to grow, was that we wanted clients to be clients for life – that we would be their legal provider.”
Acquiring other businesses has accelerated MSB’s growth in presence and expertise, particularly during the year since Carey took the helm.
Having replaced Paul Bibby as the managing partner in March 2018, she has seen three established companies join the firm under her leadership.
The acquisition of Matrix, which focuses on debt recovery for SMEs, aimed to further support MSB’s small and medium business clients; while bringing in Liverpool’s private family practice Cheeseman & Company has enabled MSB’s traditionally legal aid focused family department to expertly deal with high net worth clients.
Meanwhile the acquisition of Knox Ellis, which acts for housing associations and works with a predominantly Manchester-based list of property providers, enables MSB to help develop its Merseyside client base.
Representing social housing is something which, according to Carey, has developed from MSB Solicitors’ focus on social responsibility.
“We really want to do business with people who share our ethos and what we believe in,” she says.
“There’s a big thing around social responsibility and it’s something all businesses have got to do, and that’s great, but I truthfully believe it runs through the very core of our organisation and is something each and every member of staff buys into and wants to participate in.”
MSB chooses where it takes its business carefully, opting to use services which also pay back into the community.
“For example we use Blackburne House for our Christmas parties, conferences and events because that’s a profit for purpose organisation where the profit is then put back into the charitable arm and is supporting women in education,” explains Carey.
“If you promote those things and say ‘this is what we’re doing’, it challenges others to do it which is obviously a good thing.”
Carey is a board member of Blackburne House, leading by example as MSB encourages and trains its fee earners to sit on boards as trustees, and tells Move Commercial the social enterprise will be among those it’ll work with to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March as well as this year’s 100-year anniversary of women in the law.
“The law changes, society changes and we need to be one step ahead to make sure we have the knowledge and expertise to meet the needs of clients.”
Along with participating in Blackburne House’s events, the firm will also be helping to share the stories of “female lawyers who have had to go through different journeys to fulfill their career”.
“I think there are now really positive role models of women who have had amazing careers in law and have gone to the top of their profession,” says Carey, who was named in the Legal 500 – recognition amongst industry peers which she regards as a “major achievement” in her career.
She suggests the current questions to ask when it comes to gender equality in the profession should be about the positions women hold rather than whether there are enough women in the sector.
“We’ve got female managing partners in Liverpool but I was a high achiever in school,” Carey says. “There was a reason I didn’t go and join a big firm in London, I stayed here and that’s the issue we’ve got to be looking at – what are the barriers to certain parts of the profession?”
MSB’s work in promoting equality is among its many credentials that have attracted awards recognition, as the whole firm, its individual teams and employees and its managing partner have achieved accolades across the legal sector and beyond.
Last year Carey was shortlisted for the Corporate Ally of the Year title at the NatWest British LGBT+ Awards, having been nominated by an MSB trainee, and the nod spurred the firm on to secure the Navajo Kite Mark – a recognised equality mark supported by the LGBT+ community.
“Equality is something I’m personally passionate about and it’s something all businesses do need to keep top of their agenda. It has to be there until it no longer needs to be there.
“As part of the Navajo you have to have an LGBT+ committee to show you raise awareness of issues and embrace it, and that you make contact with other organisations and look at how you promote things within the city.
“All the staff really got behind it and we marched in Pride and did lots of things around that, but we’re going to change it into an equalities committee and a partner will champion each different group so there is somebody, a seniority, taking responsibility for it.
“Hopefully that will generate a lot of good things, get behind a lot of good issues and just get everybody involved.”
For Carey, such measures fit into her wider outlook for MSB as she continues to lead beyond her first anniversary as managing partner of the firm.
“I’d like us to retain our ethos and our values and to grow and take the people we have with us, but to continue to develop and go into new emerging areas of law, continue to do things in our own way, and continue to be recognised as a firm that cares,” she says.