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Meet the lawyer

Asif Patel

Asif Patel

University: Lancaster University
Degree: Law
Year made partner: 2018
Position: Partner
Department: Construction and engineering
Pronouns: He/him/his    

What attracted you to a career in law?

I was attracted by the prospect of the variety of work on offer, and I wanted a career that provided an intellectual challenge. My day to day involves helping individuals and businesses to solve problems; it’s incredibly satisfying to see how a well-drafted legal document can enable a business to succeed in the real world – we’re not just dealing in academics. Plus, building relationships with clients and colleagues was something I wanted from my career, and law lends itself to that. A lot of the people that I work with today, I’ve known since I was a trainee and those relationships have developed over the years, which is rewarding.

I also knew there would be good opportunities for career development. The structure of a law firm allows a trainee to start their career with the aim of one day taking a key role in the running of the business, and have the chance to make that a reality.

What did the path to partner look like for you?

I qualified into the construction team after my training contract with Devonshires and carried out a mixture of litigation and transactional work. We were quite a small team back then and although we had a non-contentious practice, it wasn’t as established as our litigation practice. I saw an opportunity to develop that side of the practice while carving a niche for my own career. We started small, with just one assistant, and have grown to be an essential part of the firm’s offering. We’re continuing to grow and I’m ambitious about the team’s future.

For me, the path to partner was about building the non-contentious practice and demonstrating to the partnership that it was sustainable. The repeat/referral relationships helped to attract new clients and cement those relationships. This also involved becoming the go-to person and expert in my field within the firm and recruiting good people to assist along the way. Once I had the business model in place, this supported my movement through to partnership.

The path to partner is different from firm to firm. In my experience, Devonshires has always been good at nurturing and looking after its people – a lot of the partners started at Devonshires early on in their careers or trained here. We pick out leaders from the outset and develop those individuals.

How does the work you do as partner differ to the work you did as a senior associate?

It’s more focused and complex work, which is often driven by clients’ requirements. My day-to-day role involves a lot of drafting along with leading and managing transactions, strategy and negotiations on behalf of our clients.

The development schemes that we work on focus on the residential and commercial sectors and can range from developer land-led schemes to joint ventures and can also cover traditional development schemes to regeneration projects. We also get involved in schemes that are distressed due to contractor insolvencies, for example, or more complex schemes that our clients are developing in line with the new building regulations.

As a partner, there’s a greater focus on client management and business development, but also on people management, which involves supervision and guiding and mentoring senior associates.

You start with the basic building blocks as an associate; then as a senior associate, you’re provided with more autonomy (at Devonshires anyway); and partnership involves taking on a leadership function and full responsibility for the team.

Please can you outline your area of expertise?

I specialise in transactional construction matters, providing advice to clients from the pre-planning phase through to the construction phase, project completion and onward sale. My work primarily focuses on the residential and commercial sectors and we advise on all forms of construction procurement, including traditional, design and build, modular, joint venture, management contracting and construction management. We also provide risk mitigation strategies for the delivery of either delayed or distressed projects.

In terms of my client base, this extends to the private and public sectors. We act for developers, funders, investment vehicles, local authorities and registered social housing landlords.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

The most enjoyable element of a transaction, for me, is the negotiation and completion of the deal. It’s great to build relationships with other lawyers on a collaborative level because everyone is working towards the same goal: to get the deal done.

The sense of satisfaction in closing a transaction and delivering for the client is an element of the job that I really enjoy. It’s always rewarding to see a happy client and to feel as though I’ve made a meaningful difference – it makes the time spent on the transaction worth it.

Devonshires is a top-tier law firm for social housing work and we’re consistently engaged on numerous schemes that involve the development of affordable homes in the social housing sector. There’s always a real sense of achievement in delivering those projects for the communities and contributing in a small way to easing the housing crisis.

In terms of the element I least enjoy, it might be the early starts. I work from home one or two days a week but I’m mostly in the office, which means arriving early and leaving late – it comes with the territory! Central to the job is being able to manage various moving parts and to keep everybody happy, which can be a challenge.

What makes your firm stand out?

Devonshires doesn’t sit on the fence. We provide straightforward, pragmatic advice and are never afraid to roll up our sleeves or take on difficult matters. This typifies Devonshires – we enjoy a challenge.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful partner?

To become a partner, you must demonstrate that you have a sustainable business model – not only in terms of the work that you do, but also collaboratively cross-selling and bringing in work for others. Moreover, you have to be an expert in your field and have the confidence of other lawyers within the firm. Business acumen is also important in appreciating how best to develop and grow the business.

Once you reach partner, one of the key skills I’d highlight is the ability to maintain excellent lines of communication with clients and the team. You must be good at listening and taking on board information (because there’s a lot of it). It’s always important to ensure you’ve given every matter sufficient time. Organisation goes hand in hand with that. There are a lot of clients, and their business priorities, that we have to juggle. At the same time, it’s our responsibility to maintain and have oversight of, and a strong connection with, our team in terms of the work they’re doing, their own business development and personal wellbeing.

What’s your advice to aspiring lawyers looking to develop their commercial awareness?

For aspiring lawyers looking to put together applications or preparing for interviews, research the law firm that you’ve applied to and find out exactly what they do. You should then focus your commercial research on the firm’s practices. Regardless of the firm’s area of expertise, build an understanding of the relevant publications and read them.

Instead of just google searching these things and having a surface-level insight, you should delve into the issues and do your homework. When we conduct our training contract interviews at Devonshires, you can always tell those who’ve researched the firm in depth, from those who’ve regurgitated what they’ve said at previous interviews.

Although you’ll naturally have your stock responses to certain questions, my top tip is to have specific examples ready for when you are asked about the firm, the departments and the sectors that the firm focuses on. Read, read and read some more. Preparation is key.

Describe the firm in three words?

Established: we’ve worked hard over decades to cement our position in our chosen sectors, and that’s reflected in our broad base of long-standing clients.      

Determined: we won’t leave any stone untouched and we don’t fear difficult work. We take on challenging and interesting transactions, and we don’t sit on the fence. We have our clients’ best interests in mind and are determined to get the best result. This approach to work is consistent throughout the firm.

Sociable: our people are very friendly and approachable. We recognise that each person at Devonshires is helping to build the future of the firm.  

What’s the most important thing a candidate researching the firm should understand about it?

Candidates need to understand our ethos and culture ahead of making an application or attending an interview. If a candidate has done their research, they’ll realise that we are a collegiate, passionate, personable, straightforward and pleasant bunch to work with. We’re always looking to hire individuals who will ensure that culture is maintained into the future.

Candidates should understand our client base. During our final stage training contract interviews last year, I was surprised by the number of external candidates who didn’t understand who our clients were.

Finally, in researching Devonshires, it’s important to understand that we nurture homegrown talent and select future leaders. It’s all about the individual and what they can bring to the business.

What are you reading at the moment?

One of the books I always recommend, and finished recently, is We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen – it’s a long read but the payoff is well worth it.

My wife recently recommended The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly – it’s about a young boy whose mother has passed and he loses himself in the fables he was told as a child, which then become a reality. It’s been a great source of escapism on long commutes.