Begonia Filgueira qualified as a lawyer both in Spain and in England. She worked at Simmons & Simmons and Freshfields before leaving to set up her own environmental law practice called Gaia Law. Earlier this year she re-branded the company as Eric, which stands for the “Environmental Regulation and Information Centre”. She now mainly advises governments and other institutions…
mtl: Please could you start by telling us about your career as an assistant?
Begonia: I came to the UK to do an English law degree half way through my Spanish law degree. I was interested in European law but at the time Spanish law courses didn’t teach it. Once I had finished at UCL I completed my Spanish law degree, worked in Spain and then did a year of training at Simmons & Simmons. I moved to the environment group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer as an NQ because I had an interest in administrative law, rather then because I was a passionate green at the time.
I received great training and legal grounding at Freshfields, at a point when environmental law was a relatively new discipline. For the first couple of years I concentrated on European lobbying and advice, with some litigation work. In the following years I did more environment M&A work. I worked in a very international environment with great people, who were very capable and interesting. The department also benefited from external academic support and included a partner who was also a professor in environmental law.
mtl: Why did you leave Freshfields?
Begonia: After five or six years there, I got to the stage where I realised that I didn’t want to be a partner in a City firm in the long term because of the hours and pace of M&A work. Both of my parents had their own businesses and it was almost expected of me that I would go that route. I thought long and hard about what to do. I obviously had my legal skills but I also had an entrepreneurial side that wasn’t being exploited.
I therefore considered doing something completely different but settled on using my niche experience to set up my own legal business. I had numerous contacts in the area and by then a passion for the subject matter. I set up Gaia law in 2004 and a former colleague joined me shortly afterwards.
mtl: Tell us about running your own business?
Begonia: Although I had a business partner, the lack of a secretary, juniors, trainees, and all the support that you take for granted within a large organisation came as a complete shock. I did everything from finding an office, to setting up the company and looking for opportunities. It was a great challenge that came with a very steep learning curve, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found some work pretty quickly within the first month.
We started small on the Strand, dealing with all aspects of environmental law and taking any opportunity that came along. However after a few years it became clear what type of work we were mainly doing. A clear focus of where we wanted to be emerged, but this was after meandering along the way until that point.
We now mainly work on contracts for governments and other institutions and have work secured for the next few years. For example I am currently working for the UN on the Convention of Migratory Species by looking at where it is legally, constitutionally and financially and how it can be improved for the next twenty years.
As a result, we decided to rebrand the company to better represent the work that we do. We have just re-launched Gaia Law as Eric (Environmental Regulation and Information Centre). The website acts as a shop-front for what we do and we have a growing team of consultants that we use on a project basis.
We encourage people to use the website and make use of the expert information that is on it from many different specialisms. We now cover issues such as pollution, climate change and regulatory law and have some great people on board who regularly contribute from the fields of environmental economics, journalism, academia and law. The aim is to create a community that discusses these issues in an attempt to come up with interesting solutions.
Having project-based consultants working on Eric has freed me up to work on other things that I enjoy doing. I update the environment section on Lexis Nexis and I also teach law. It is very important to me to be able to do this as I enjoy it so much, though I wouldn’t want to be a full time academic. I am also a trustee and council member of the UK Environmental Lawyers Association, a forum that brings people together and which aims to influence the law to improve the environment, while also disseminating information and knowledge. So, running my own business has given me a lot of flexibility…
mtl: It sounds like you are a very busy woman! Do you have any advice for our readers?
Begonia: There are so many opportunities if you step outside the box, so go for it! Be realistic, but there is no reason why you can’t be successful outside your current partnership structure. Be warned though that if you run your own firm you might not sleep for the first few years and you have to quickly learn about your strengths and weaknesses. There is nobody to rely on at the beginning and you have to understand business as well as legal work, including accounts, bookkeeping and getting the right team together. You also can’t expect everything to happen at once and you have to be patient and persistent!
mtl: Thank you for your time.
Click here to see the Eric website.
1987 – 1990
Spanish law degree
1990 – 1993
Law degree, UCLl
1993 - 1997
Completing Spanish Law Degree
1996 - 1997
Worked in Despacho Alberto Munoz, Vigo, Spain
1997 - 1998
Training, Simmons & Simmons
1998 - 2003
Environment Assistant, Freshfields
Set up Gaia Law
Re-branded Gaia Law as Eric