Diary of a Sharemark float: dealing with the press

James Hunt is a solicitor, serial entrepreneur and founder of Everyman Legal – a new type of law firm providing legal services for entrepreneurs. The company of solicitors is the first in the UK to announce it will take advantage of the new practising regime created under the Legal Services Act by seeking a stock market admission. The company intends to trade its shares on Sharemark – a stock market for smaller companies – in the last quarter of 2012. In an honest and open account for Real Business, James Hunt will be charting the ups and downs of preparing his company for an admission.

In making the decision to go onto Sharemark last month, my company had to address a key challenge: we can’t have less than 100 shares in public hands. This is the Sharemark requirement – and shares held by directors and their families don’t count.

While all Everyman solicitors will hold shares by April 2012, and we have ambitious plans to grow, I don’t expect that qualifying shareholders (viz non director solicitors, their families, employees and investors) will take us to more than 40 by October 2012.

To make up the difference, we’re going to have our team nominate small not-for-profit organisations and charities to whom we are each going to gift shares. 

I have set aside five per cent of my shareholding in Everyman for this purpose.

By doing this, we hope to make significant bequests to worthwhile organisations. Not big charities but small local organisations known to each of us personally. This will make the whole arrangement more personal and will be a great way for solicitors to engage with their local communities and with one another.

By choosing organisations we know, we expect to avoid the trap of 60-plus shareholders dumping their shares on the market. That would not be a good way to build value!

Speaking of building value, we’ve appointed PR consultants to handle our announcement. It’s important to build profile in the run-up to our admission. We have finalised a press release and have gone through, at length, questions and answers about our plans. 

This is where I begin to realise that the scrutiny will start the minute we make the announcement. 

Going through this process has made me ask questions of myself and my business that just hadn’t occurred to me. What is our target valuation in five years’ time? How can we really scale up our business to drive that value? What dividend yield will underpin the share price? What additional members of the management team do we need? What are the key advisers we need to have in place?

Suddenly, I have meetings with journalists from the Law Society Gazette (the principal trade magazine for solicitors) and the Financial Times. I’m plummeted into the media world and I have to make sure that these journalists “buy” the Everyman story. Every piece of press is important.

James Hunt, Everyman Legal

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