Neil Pearson

Neil is a partner and our head of ESG (environmental, social & governance). He talks about his career, how he moved into the ESG sphere, and how Mills & Reeve has embraced the ESG agenda.

Can you tell us a little about your journey into a legal career?

I suppose it starts with figuring out what I wanted to do after school. I was one of those kids who had no idea what I wanted to do - I was okay at most things, but not excellent at anything. It was actually my English teacher, who was always an inspiration to me, who sat me down when I was about 16 and said, “I think you'd make a good lawyer.” It’d never even crossed my mind, and had never been my aspiration to do something like that. I was the first generation in our family to go to university, my dad left school at 14, and we certainly didn't know any lawyers! I ended up studying law at Manchester University, and it just mushroomed from there.

After graduation I started looking for jobs in Birmingham because I was skint, and my parents lived in the area so I could go and live with them for a few years while I did my articles (these days known as a training contract). I didn’t really know where to start, so went to the library (this was in the pre-internet days), found a book with a list of law firms, counted the number of partners in each firm, and applied to the 10 biggest. I ended up joining what is now Squire Patton Boggs (then known as Edge Ellison) and absolutely loved it - it's one of those periods of my life that I look back on with huge amounts of affection. I met some fantastic people, some of whom are still close friends after nearly 40 years. After qualifying into corporate I spent the next ten years working in the booming corporate market of the 80s and 90s. We were never short of work, I can tell you that!

How did the transition to head of ESG at Mills & Reeve come about?

I was looking for a new challenge, and moved to manage my then firm’s tax team. My workload slowly evolved until I was doing just tax work with a specialism in share schemes, and equity investing into small and medium sized businesses. About 10 years ago I worked on a project to create an investment fund to invest in social enterprises. I spent about a year working on a structure, but in the end we didn’t raise enough investment. It did spark the idea that the whole space needed a kick start from government though.

As a result, I was asked alongside a couple of others by the City of London Corporation to write a report about whether we could create a tax relief that would stimulate investment into social enterprises. Amazingly, the chancellor at the time agreed to our proposal. Through this, I had a huge amount of exposure into the world of social enterprises, and how businesses could be a force for good in society. I started doing more and more work in that space, helping small businesses and social enterprises to raise funding. When I joined Mills & Reeve they agreed that I could carry on doing that kind of work.

Then, in 2019, the firm decided to look more closely at its purpose, and wanted a partner to sponsor the project. Given my background I was asked to take it on, and was allowed to run with it. Although the Covid pandemic slightly put this on hold, by the time the pandemic was over, purpose had morphed into a wider focus on ESG. This coincided with me wanting one more different challenge, and the firm let me step back from most of my frontline client work, and focus on driving ESG within the business.

How would you say Mills & Reeve has embraced ESG over recent years?

With open arms, they’ve been hugely supportive and massively enthusiastic. They gave me resource to build a team, and we work closely with our pre-existing (and amazing!) diversity, inclusion and wellbeing team as well. The importance of diversity and inclusion is something the firm has recognised for a long time, but probably less so the wider ESG piece. But the leadership team have absolutely embraced it. It's front and centre of all our decisions, and is an integral part of the strategy that we’re developing for 2030. Very clearly, the steer from our leadership team is that ESG is a thread that runs through every team and every decision that we make. It runs through the way we do business. That's how our leadership team are now seeing ESG, which is fantastic.

What’s been your proudest career moment?

Helping pioneer the tax relief to support social enterprises. It was brilliant to see something I'd done make a change at a national level. We were the first country in the world to develop a tax relief specifically targeted at growing social enterprises, and when then Prime Minister David Cameron hosted world leaders at the G20 summit, he kicked off discussing social investment and social impact. To be part of something that grew into that, shows that all of us can make change if we are given a chance and have a real go. Even though, ultimately, the tax relief didn't work in the way we hoped it would, it brought the issue to the political debate and contributed to the many elements that have led to a massive increase in businesses’ interest in behaving more responsibly and having a more positive impact on society.

Mills & Reeve Sites navigation
A tabbed collection of Mills & Reeve sites.
My Mills & Reeve navigation
Subscribe to, or manage your My Mills & Reeve account.
My M&R


Register for My M&R to stay up-to-date with legal news and events, create brochures and bookmark pages.

Existing clients

Log in to your client extranet for free matter information, know-how and documents.


Mills & Reeve system for employees.