Rob Whitaker

rob whitaker

It was a delight speaking with Rob, a career lawyer having worked at the same firm for over 20 years, Tees Law, a well established firm that for over 100 years has been striving to help its clients to a better future. The Firm was recently featured in The Times 250 best Law Firms 2023 for its private client work. Rated as a “leading individual” in the Legal 500, Rob is now an Executive Partner he runs the 160 strong Head Office in Bishops Stortford Hertfordshire and is head of the business division responsible for employment law, data protection, corporate and commercial law. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his family and is Chair of Governors at a school which is about to embark on a school rebuilding programme. 


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

I’m responsible for a new trainee every six months and I give each one of them a book called Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. The important message is attention to details and to always check and recheck your works. Especially as a lawyer, what we say and how we say it matters. It’s also a fun read!.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

I believe writing things down is valuable. It’s tangible and requires more care and so more thought about what you write.. Once the ink is on the page you can’t simply press delete and start again! I recently acquired a Parker 5th which is a neat blend of the traditional look of a fountain pen but which writes more like a more functional biro.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

The thing with things not going to plan is that you genuinely learn when this happens.. It’s a jolt. My attitude is if I can do something about it I will  but I’ll always want to learn from any experience and reflect on how we might do things differently next time. It’s also really important to keep stakeholders, clients, and customers informed if things don’t go to plan and talk through the options. Trust is hard to win and very easily lost.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)


Do the right thing. Follow your gut. Test your theory and validate those instincts.

Get stuff done!


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

At work, we invest in people. We love to support our new starters and trainees’ development as the future of the business and future leaders at the firm in 10, 20 years time.  

Away from my desk I like to invest the limited spare time I have, in music and art – not for financial benefit as you’d expect but for providing me with an opportunity to stop and reflect, whether looking at a great image at a gallery that’s different, that makes me think or learning to play a new musical instrument!


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love? 

I like to tidy up mess! It’s  the process I enjoy. It helps me relax and takes my mind off stuff.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

Don’t rush into things.

It’s easy to forget the option to pause for reflection. It can be very valuable. Sometimes problems solve themselves or present new options for resolution and in attacking the problem in a rush, you can risk making it worse or missing an opportunity to do things differently. 


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?” 

We say this to our trainees on their first day: Run enthusiastically at every task and opportunity but don’t rush!

Use your eyes and ears to learn. Listen to everything, don’t be in a rush to speak to fill the space in a conversation!.


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

When clients seek going straight to litigation without first understanding why they want to.  It’s really important to start by really focusing on the objective and not making the means to an end the aim in itself.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

We’re a progressive law firm and always have been. Our IT department includes programmers and we are always looking to innovate. It’s important that as an industry we continue to look at new and better ways to help our clients. . 


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

It’s important to focus on the work you know you can do well, that you enjoy and be brave to invest in that and doing that with vigour. It’s about helping clients in the most effective, sustainable way. 


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life?

I think as long as you do what you are good at and do everything you do well and with enthusiasm, life is good.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?) 

Take a break. We have a coffee/snack station to get the blood sugar back up. I also like to get some fresh air, and go for a walk and stretch my legs!.


What does leadership mean to you? 

It’s different from management. It’s people naturally wanting to follow you, not driving them as a manager might. It’s having the vision and leading by example. Being enthusiastic with vigour and energy and being ruthless (not unethical) in the pursuit of the aims.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

My parents of course.

Teachers too. My music teacher taught me the value of attention to detail and practice, practice, practise in order to do your best, whatever you do in life. 

I still like to try to learn a new musical instrument every couple of years. I love the mandolin -it’s an interesting, fun instrument tuned like a violin but often played more like a guitar. It’s used in quite a lot of folk music and is good to play.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

Doing the right thing. Come with positive intent. Be solutions focused and be accountable.


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

What’s the footprint of your activities? How is it impacting others?


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results? 

Be in the room mentally as well as physically.. Think about and focus on the work at hand – put that mobile phone away!


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

As a firm we have. It helped. We learned to look at all we were doing and ask the question: Will what we are doing help move things ? 

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