With our Spotlight on our solicitors series, we highlight the talent and expertise of our legal professionals. In these interviews, we uncover more about the people behind the expert advice. Most recently, we caught up with employee incentives solicitor, James Borshell. Joining Harper James as a Senior Employee Incentives Solicitor in November 2022, James brings with him over 20 years’ post qualified experience in advising on employee incentives and employee benefits matters including: share option plans, growth shares, long term incentive plans, bonus schemes, pensions and healthcare trusts.
How did you begin your career? What/who inspired you to practice law?
James began his career at a West London-based legal aid firm, where he worked as a legal assistant supporting a team of solicitors in defending eviction, disrepair, welfare benefits and debt issues.
‘This was back when publicly funded rates were still workable, and I spent the night of the Millennium billing green and white legal aid forms to meet deadlines. After that, I worked in Civil Service, and then went into the industry where I was a partner at a couple of great firms. I was a Senior Associate at Dentons, then Partner at Womble Bond Dickinson and Knights. In terms of who inspired me to practice law, that would be my father, who has always had an interest in the practical side of the law though he didn’t have the opportunity to study it. He’d have made a great solicitor!’
What are the main areas of your equity incentives expertise? Are there any particular specialist or niche areas you’ll be covering?
‘I have a broad experience of tax privileged share and option schemes ranging from SAYEs for large corporations across to start-up EMIs. I’ve also worked on a variety of structures to incentivise key staff across start-ups such as Growth Shares of various kinds, LTIPs, Phantom Share schemes and shorter-term bonus schemes.’ explained James. ‘My background is in pensions law, so I am able to assist with most pension problems, and I have a rather niche expertise in Healthcare Trusts – a form of trust which is used to provide health benefits to employees outside of the insurance structure.’
Can you recall any key moments from your career so far?
‘Probably the day I was two-thirds of the way through an article for a professional magazine on a set of regulations that I oversaw and realising that although I could tell the reader chapter and verse on exactly why each provision was where it was, I had no idea of how it worked in practice. That was the day I decided that I’d need to move out of the law drafting side of the profession and into the cut and thrust of industry side work.’
What do you think your clients value most about how you work with them?
‘I’m practical and always clear in my communications. Most problems have a solution and where there isn’t a direct solution, there is usually a way around the roadblock in question.’ James explained. ‘On clear communications, I can simplify complex legal problems into something that can be easily understood – clients are intelligent people, and most of the problems they will encounter when dealing with their lawyers can usually be brought down to overly technical explanations, which could have been explained without the need to resort to legalese. I like to think that my writing side line helps on that.’
How have you found working at Harper James so far? Any first impressions?
‘First impressions are very good. The team were immensely helpful in getting me up to speed on the way that HJ works and adapting around some of the practical issues of working as a Solicitor 5000 miles away in Alaska.’ said James. ‘I’ve liked the ‘can-do’ approach to getting things done and I’m particularly impressed by the approach that the team take to client relations – an example being the innovative subscription packages and the simple fact that we bill by the minute – so if you work for two minutes, you charge for two minutes without the six-minute time unit which is the bane of good value in the industry, no matter the intentions of the lawyers.’
Any hobbies? What do you do to unwind?
Outside of his consultancy work, James enjoys work as a contract negotiator in the clinical research industry.
‘To unwind, I write post-apocalyptic novels under a penname, set in a world where the skies are red and look after three wonderful children with my wife whilst appreciating the scenery and quirkiness of the Last Frontier.’
What are three things on your bucket list?
‘Oddly I don’t have a bucket list – I’ve had a varied life to date and as such have found that fun stuff tends to come to me rather than needing to seek it out! I’ve always wanted to go and visit the sites of the Neo-Inca State, I need to write the last series book at some point, and head up to Utqiagvik to see how similar it is to the 30 Days of Night film!’