Former Google lawyer now designing gardens
Nigel Jones was the first lawyer to work in-house for Google outside of the US. By the time he left, he was heading up a team of 45 lawyers across Europe and was a member of the company’s European Management Group. In 2007 he changed career and now runs his own garden design business called Medlar & Cob, which is based in London. Medlar & Cob has just been accepted by the RHS to design a show garden at this year's Hampton Court Flower Show which takes place in July and will be covered by the BBC.
mtl: Please can you start by telling us about your time as a lawyer?
Nigel: I studied law as I thought I would be good at it and I wanted to do something vocational rather than spending years on a subject just for the love of it. I was desperate to earn money as soon as possible as many of my friends were already working. I saw my law degree as a means to an end, although I did enjoy my time at law school in York.
I trained at Berwin Leighton and qualified into commercial litigation in 1994. Over the years I specialised as an IP lawyer, which in turn led me towards internet-related work. In 2001 I moved in-house to work for AltaVista as a lawyer in their enterprise search business, eventually becoming AltaVista’s European Counsel. In 2003 AltaVista was sold and I made myself redundant.
Google was growing fast at the time in the US and I got in touch with them as I thought they might need to employ someone in London. I sent them my CV and also went out to California to meet them. It helped that I’d already worked for a search engine and that they knew and trusted people that I’d previously worked for.
After about twelve interviews I was offered a job and became the first lawyer working for the company outside of California, based in a small office in Soho. By December 2007 there were 45 lawyers across Europe and I was a member the European Management Group.
mtl: It sounds like you were very successful. Why did you leave?
Nigel: I left as I wasn’t enjoying the job, even though it was a job that many people would have wanted. Objectively it is an amazing place to work if you are interested in technology and you like being a lawyer. There is a great environment, lots of perks and it is fun to work for a successful and well known company.
When it comes down to it though, I’m not the sort of person who likes to work in a huge organisation, which is one of the reasons why I’d previously left private practice. I wanted to be close to or running a business and although I got a lot of exposure to the business side of Google, I wanted to leave to do something for fun and for the love of it rather than because I had to. If I had stayed longer it would have been just for the money.
Also, although I would say that I quite liked the law, I was never passionate about it. I worked for and with some great people, which is why I did it for so long.
mtl: Why garden design?
Nigel: I was in my own garden one day when I thought “wouldn’t it be great to do this all the time?” Towards the end of my time at Google, I did an RHS course in horticulture one day a week. I knew that I wanted to work with plants but didn’t know in exactly what capacity. On the course I realised that I wanted to design gardens for a living.
My role at Google involved being on a plane the whole time and working very long hours, and working in the outdoors is far preferable to that life. Lawyers at Google work incredibly hard and I can’t imagine that there is a more talented and hard-working in-house team in Europe.
After I left Google I did a one year full time diploma at the Inchbald School of Design, whose qualifications are accredited by the University of Wales. At the same time I set up Medlar & Cob LLP. When I finished the course, I got my website up and running to showcase my portfolio and did some work for a landscape architect firm for six months.
Since then I’ve been building up my own portfolio and taking on work through personal recommendations and referrals. I have been getting work in quicker than I expected to and it hasn’t really been a struggle so far. Running my own business has been great fun and I’ve had to learn how to do a host of new things. My plan for the future is to have a successful business that I enjoy, which means working on interesting projects and making enough money to feed the kids!
mtl: Tell us about your working week?
Nigel: I’m based in a great studio in Woolwich, which overlooks the Thames Barrier. It’s part of what is to become the largest single site of affordable space for artists and designers in Europe and there is a great atmosphere. When I’m there I do the designing, and administrative stuff such as work on my website and PR. At other times I am on site planting or checking on the progress of builds.
In the winter I tend to be more inside than outside and in the summer it’s the reverse. I subcontract the heavy duty landscaping work, but like to do the planting myself. My days are very varied and a mix of intellectual (thinking about the plants themselves), creative (doing the design work) and practical (actually out on the site). At the moment my typical job would be re-designing a London garden in e.g. Wimbledon, Twickenham or Greenwich.
mtl: What have been the highs and lows so far, do you miss anything about law and do you have any advice for our readers?
Nigel: My most memorable moments so far have been working on the show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show for the last two years. The downside of what I do is the worry that the phone will stop ringing. I’ve always worked in places where the work just comes and there is more work to do than time to do it in. If it’s your own business you start to get worried about the work stopping rather than how much of it you are doing.
The main thing that I miss about my legal career is the Friday night meatball pizza that Google used to order in!
My advice to readers is don’t underestimate law as a profession. You should never be out of work as a good lawyer, which is worth a lot. It’s a respectable and impressive profession, where outsiders generally assume that you have some talent. I also found working in-house that people were very appreciative of the lawyers’ input and it was good to feel helpful.
Everyone gets fed up in their jobs and if you do, weigh up your options carefully and don’t jump ship straight away as the grass isn’t always greener. If you do jump, then don’t be afraid to sell as it often doesn’t come naturally to lawyers to sell their services. I was lucky that I was already confident on the business side because of my experience at Google.
mtl: Finally, why did you call your business Medlar & Cob?
Nigel: I wanted a name that felt traditional. A Medlar is an ancient fruit tree mentioned by Chaucer and Shakespeare among others. A Cob is an ancient nut tree which was very common in England before nuts started to be imported from abroad. So, Fruit & Nut - which just happens to be my dad's favourite chocolate.
mtl: Thank you Nigel and good luck with your business.
You can see Nigel's website here.
Training contract, Berwin Leighton
Commercial litigation and IP assistant
In-house at AltaVista
Head of Legal, Google Europe, Middle East & Africa
Diploma in Garden Design, Inchbald School of Design
Set up Medlar & Cob LLP