Practice Note 8: Pick Your Partner

— 3 minute read

Architecture is definitely easier done as a group – or at least a pair. So when starting up, think about doing it with a partner, but maybe don’t think that it is going to last forever. Why would it?

A few years ago I went through the strange process of separating from a practice that I co-founded and through that I learned a lot about the landscape of practice ownership. It turns out to be part legal undertaking, part chemistry, part assumption and part blind faith. Emotional issues and attachments aside, a key discussion point during the change of ownership of the practice was the concept of liabilities left behind when one leaves a limited company as a combined director, employee and shareholder. Could a director simply resign and leave everything behind? What were the responsibilities in terms of ongoing PI Insurance payments and future tax payments. There was a lot to think about.

A few people I spoke to at the time gave me the impression that one could indeed simply resign and walk away without a care in the world, but that didn’t feel quite right and there were some legal points that I simply didn’t understand. So I tried the RIBA legal helpline and the FSB legal helpline and while they agreed in principle with the idea that you can just walk away, their advice came with differing caveats, which concerned me, so I spoke to a solicitor to get a final opinion.

My work diary for the time reads: “Waiting to hear back from the solicitor on the wording for the share transfer agreement. Spoke to one solicitor formally and another informally and they both confirmed that a share transfer agreement was absolutely essential.” Needless to say, we went down the share transfer agreement route and everything worked out fine for all concerned.

At the moment I am essentially working on my own, but I know that the sum of the parts is greater when working as a group – especially when it comes to designing buildings. As I moved on from the post architectural practice break-up, the separation anxiety dissolved, as did the cynicism that built up over the course of surviving the last recession (which was definitely easier done in partnership!). I put my self in a kind of self-imposed sole practitioner re-hab isolation unit for a few years and now that things have shaped up nicely, I am wondering if I should consider looking for another partner or to put it more accurately – someone who can share the burden of running the practice. And if so – what are the different ways that might work?

The practice manuals all say that you need to pick someone with skills that compliment your own. That sounds right, but I think you also need someone who makes it fun and interesting to work with. What ever you do, when you are eyeing up your potential partner/s at the architectural disco, do everyone involved a favor and have a think about what might happen when the honeymoon is over.