University: University of Leicester
Degree: Law and economics BA (Hons)
Year of qualification: 1997
Position: Managing partner
Department: Commercial and IP
There are two reasons I thought the solicitor route would be a better fit for me. The first one being client interaction — when I qualified, barristers didn’t have as much direct access to clients, so the appeal of becoming a solicitor was that I’d be more ‘in the trenches’ with my clients. The other deciding factor was the draw of being able to work as part of a team within a law firm, as barristers are often more isolated.
I’d only had one week’s work experience in a law firm, so not a great deal. That said, I think it’s really important because without legal work experience there’s a risk that employers won’t see or understand your commitment and drive to join the profession. Plus, if you’ve never worked in law, how will you know whether it’s for you?
In practice, gaining legal work experience can be a challenge. At Brabners, this is something we’re aware of and trying to change through widening access to work placement schemes and insight days.
It wasn’t just the week of legal work experience I had, but real-world work experience. It’s not just about name dropping lots of law firm names but instead highlighting a wide breadth of experience and a commitment to working hard.
We’re embracing new routes to qualification, including the Solicitors Qualifying Exam and graduate apprenticeships. Typically, our trainees start their training contracts in September. These are made up of four six-month seats. We encourage all our trainees to complete a varied training contract, which means that we do our best to accommodate all seat preferences.
Before trainees undertake their fourth (and final) seat, we seek to understand which area they’d like to qualify into. At the same time, we consult with our practice group heads and heads of department to get clarity on potential vacancies within teams. We aim to ensure that –by the end of February –all second-year trainees know which roles will be available to them upon qualification.
I wish that I’d known it was all going to be ok! I’m not naturally an anxious person but I remember finding my two years of training quite intense and I put a lot of pressure on myself. Looking back, I now know that if you give it your all, learn from your mistakes and do your best, success will usually follow.
One of the consequences of being managing partner is that I don’t do so much client work anymore. However, I still have and maintain relationships with all my clients (many of whom I also consider friends). Saying this, not too long ago I advised a client called Lucid Games – a Liverpool-based software game developer and one of the few third-party developers to work on a software game for the launch of the PlayStation 5. I supported Lucid by negotiating its development and publishing deal with Sony.
My role as managing partner falls principally into three categories: people, profile and clients.
‘People’ encompasses recruitment, exploring growth opportunities, encouraging and empowering colleagues and their ambitions, and managing our firm’s 85 partners.
‘Profile’ covers our business development and marketing events and initiatives, participating in interviews (like this one) or speaking at events (like LawCareersNetLIVE) and acting as an ambassador to raise awareness about Brabners.
Finally, ‘clients’ comes down to not only my own clients, but also helping to nurture relationships with clients across the whole firm and ensuring that they feel valued. Additionally, I help others to win business and source new clients for Brabners.
Rather than a particular case or deal, for me, what stands out from my training contract is an area of work. I started my training contract in litigation, followed by real estate and then the corporate department. I really enjoyed M&A work –it felt like I was at the heart of business law, there was a lot of client interaction and ‘rolling your sleeves up’ to get involved in complex projects. The size and complexity of the matters meant that I could immerse myself in the work.
This experience made me certain that I wanted to focus on business law. I qualified as a corporate solicitor, although I naturally moved into commercial and intellectual property when I was a few years’ qualified.
Firstly, we’re very proud to be an independent law firm. We’re not a massive corporate behemoth. Broadly speaking, we have autonomy over our actions and what we choose to lead on and invest in – and we aren’t beholden to external stakeholders. We have a greater level of freedom and flexibility when compared to many other commercial firms.
Our culture is important to us – as it is for so many firms – and, at Brabners, we can back this up with action, awards and accolades.
Our culture is built upon our four key values, which are:
We’re a people-orientated firm and, despite having more than 500 colleagues, we try to maintain a family feel. We take our clients and our client work seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously. Retaining a sense of fun is one of the many things that makes Brabners unique.
The key attributes – regardless of what stage you’re at – are the ability to build relationships and create trust, which go hand-in-hand. You can be the most academically gifted lawyer in the world but if the people you work with don’t trust you or enjoy dealing with you, you’ll find it very difficult to succeed.
It's important to also think about what creates trust. Having empathy, humility and being a good listener are all critical to succeeding – as is being a team player. Drive is also important. While my experiences have been incredibly rewarding, this profession isn’t for the faint-hearted. Without a sense of ambition, you risk not fulfilling your true potential.
Courage is another quality that I think is crucial but this shouldn’t be confused with confidence. Courage is about backing yourself and giving things a go – whether or not you’ve got the confidence yet (which naturally takes more time and practice to develop).
We’re a purpose-driven organisation and believe that business can (and should) bring about positive change. We’re also a certified B-Corp – and were among the first law firms to gain certification –which demonstrates from an environmental, social and governance perspective that we take our responsibilities seriously.
When we assess how well our firm performs, we not only look at financial and business performance (in terms of satisfied clients, strong brand, sustainable revenue growth, superior financial performance and standout employer of choice), but also put just as much prominence on how we perform from a diversity, sustainability and innovation perspective.
At Brabners, we’ve created the Together Action Group (TAG), which is a committee of seven or eight of us (including me) and we seek to achieve change from the ground up. When we first created TAG in 2018, we asked our colleagues what’s important to them and from their responses came five key focus areas from which we’ve created five separate affinity groups centred on gender equality, social mobility, race, ethnicity and cultural heritage, LGBTQ+ rights, and physical and mental health. Each group is empowered to campaign, run events, and raise awareness about the issues they’re passionate about and these take place both within the firm and with our clients. More than one-in-five Brabners colleagues sit on at least one of these networks. We want to create an environment where our colleagues can tell us what they want us to focus on, rather than the other way around.
Independent, ambitious and progressive.
It has to be seeing two of our colleagues who worked on the Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney case starring in the Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story documentary on Disney+.
We’re now known by many as ‘the Wagatha Christie lawyers’ because Coleen Rooney is a client of ours and we advised her in the successful defence of the case brought against her by Rebekah Vardy.
My two colleagues who worked on the case represented Rooney brilliantly and successfully — they’re prominently featured in the third episode, should you wish to watch. You can also get a great look at our fabulous Manchester office.
I actually have two. The first is a margarita (the drink, not the pizza) and the second is the 1980s. While I don’t love EVERYTHING about the 80s (eg, the fashion and hairstyles), the music and films were excellent.