University: University of Birmingham
Year of qualification: 2007
Department: Construction disputes
If you go back and ask my parents and grandparents why I might’ve been attracted to a career in law, they’d say that as a kid I never stopped talking and always had to have the last say. To be perfectly honest, though, there was no real burning desire to become a solicitor when I was younger. I grew up wanting to play rugby or football and then I wanted to be a rockstar. Law interested me as a subject at undergraduate level and so I stuck with it.
I left applying for training contracts until the last minute. When I arrived at the College of Law in Birmingham back in 2004 and went to the careers department to see which firms were still offering training contracts to start the following September, one of those firms was Beale & Co. I didn’t start my journey into law with a desire to do construction, insurance and international work – the bread and butter of the firm – but it’s something that I grew into.
When recruiting our trainees, we deliberately take a small intake– the idea being that we’re looking to keep each person that we recruit at trainee level. The whole thesis behind that is that we want to grow the firm organically, so career progression is massively important. There’s a significant number of us who’ve gone all the way through Beale & Co, having started as trainees before progressing to associate, senior associate, partner and then into the equity.
All trainees get assigned a partner who supervises them, and I oversee the whole process. Every month, we sit down with the trainees to talk about what they’re getting out of the training contract. I always remind them that it’s their training contract, not mine, and encourage them to take ownership of it – I want them to tell me what they want to get out of their training, rather than me determining what they need to do. The trainees also have the freedom to say where they’d like to go for their next seats. This process then carries through once they’ve qualified with regular appraisal meetings. We have a clear structure to enable people to progress. The key thing is that we, as a group of partners, want people to succeed – it’s a massive part of our business plan.
My advice to future trainees is to try to make yourself stand out. We’re genuinely interested in finding out about you, what makes you tick and what drives you.
Applicants must also understand what we’re about as a firm. It sounds obvious but research the firm and get to know our practice areas. I’m not expecting people to turn up and say, “ever since I was four years old, I’ve wanted to be a construction lawyer” – it’s more about understanding what we do and showing a genuine interest.
The example that I always use is that you can be the best lawyer technically, but you also have to have clients who want to work with you.. In this sense, it’s important to be thinking about business development and growing a network early on. As you get more senior, you start to think about the fact that you’re also running a business so having strong commercial acumen is important as well. Ultimately, you begin your career with the basics – being a solid technical lawyer – before starting to think about business development and then the skills needed to run a business.
My area of expertise is construction disputes with a domestic focus. So, I’m typically dealing with disputes that arise on major infrastructure projects that end up, if they run the distance, being litigated through the Technology and Construction Court in London. My client base is predominantly design and build contractors, architects and engineers of a variety of disciplines. The work involves defending claims brought against these companies.
The one that springs to mind is a large, ongoing dispute that I can’t talk too much about. It’s the most complex dispute I’ve dealt with because there are so many layers and moving parts – for example:
It’s a challenging case but it’s been a fantastic experience – we’ve got a great team involved at Beale & Co and fantastic clients too.
This comes back to the career progression element – for example, if I know there’s an associate or senior associate who’s worked previously with a specific client and has done a good job then I’d want to involve them in any further issues that may arise for that client. This is a good way to help the individual develop their network and build relationships with clients.
While putting a team together is naturally driven by capacity, there are also skill sets (established and new) to be considered too.
We have designated partners at Beale & Co who lead our corporate, social and responsibility (CSR), and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) agendas. Work in these areas has become increasingly important to us in recent years in our drive to maintain what we believe to be our unique selling point: our culture. We strive to be a socially responsible employer and to maintain a culture where all colleagues feel safe, have a sense of belonging and are empowered to achieve their full potential. In addition to being important areas to us, these are also areas of increasing importance to candidates applying for roles with us and also to our clients, who now regularly ask about commitments in these areas as part of tender processes.
It’s always quite hard to articulate what the firm’s culture is like because you almost have to be at the firm to experience it yourself. Culture is hugely important and one element that’s a testament to Beale & Co is the fact that you’ve got people like me who’ve never worked anywhere else. This tells me that we’re doing more right than wrong.
It's an inclusive culture and everyone is valued. I can genuinely say that I love coming to work every day!
We’ve got a great mix of people at Beale & Co, which I think is our unique selling point. We have excellent lawyers who are also down-to-earth, good people. We’re all friends too – it’s more than just being work colleagues, it’s a genuinely lovely place to work.
This is going to sound really cliché but there have been so many opportunities to be involved in exciting, high-profile disputes. One of the things I love about my job is that you can go home in the evening, watch the news and one of the projects you’re working on could be on the TV or you could read about it in the newspaper. As an area, construction law is quite tangible – you can read about and visit the various developments and projects you’ve been involved in. I’ve had so many opportunities and highlights in what’s been a great 18-year career so far!