University: University of Hertfordshire
Year of qualification: 2012
Position: Senior associate
Department: Real estate
Watch Shoosmiths’ senior associate Brian West talk about how doing removals led to some work experience, his training at a high street firm and his work now in one of the UK’s leading law firms.
What attracted you to a career in law?
Law appealed to me as something that offered a lot of opportunity, so I studied it at university and kept going until I qualified!
How did you get to where you are now?
My route into law is slightly different to what many people might consider the normal route. I worked part-time during and after my law degree doing removals and ended up getting work experience at a law firm after doing removals for them. It was meant to be for six weeks doing archiving, but I ended up working there for four years. I took on more and more work and became a paralegal while studying the LPC part-time. After that, I worked for another firm but was eventually made redundant in 2010 during the financial crash. I completed my training contract with a high street firm in North London, which was a great experience – and completely different to what I see the trainees doing now at Shoosmiths. From there I went to another high street firm for a short period before getting the opportunity to come to Shoosmiths in 2013.
What attracted you to working at Shoosmiths?
I liked a number of things about Shoosmiths, such as the size of the firm and the type of work on offer. Location was a key factor, but when I came into Shoosmiths I immediately clicked with the people I met. In fact, the first person to interview me is the person I still work with every day. I knew straightaway that he was somebody I could work with and learn from, and I have found that Shoosmiths tries really hard to make sure that the right people are coming through the door.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I'm currently a senior associate in the real estate department in Shoosmiths’ Milton Keynes office. I predominantly work in the residential development sector, which is essentially acting for large housebuilders, but also for people that take a strategic view of land. That might be looking to assist someone who owns land getting planning permission with a view to sell the land and taking their share of the profits, or potentially taking an option on the land where they acquire planning permission.
Day to day, my job varies greatly. I could spend the whole day working on one file or I could end up doing 10 different things on 10 different files. Plus, of course, you always have to deal with phone calls and emails that come in, and people in the office as well. A typical day could be anything from going out to meet the clients, site visits and drafting contracts to giving advice by email or over the phone. There’s also the administrative side of the job which includes activities such as billing and time recording.
Please discuss a recent deal, outlining your role in the matter.
Residential development is interesting because every site is different and every site has some sort of problem with it. There aren’t many sites where you pick up the title and think “Oh that’s a good clean title”, and it’s a really easy deal where everything goes through smoothly. You always come across issues and one of the things I most enjoy is problem-solving and trying to find a solution. Ultimately, our role is to facilitate the client buying the land or doing the deal they want to do, so we need to get them to the end point where they can build houses and make a profit.
Some of the most interesting cases are the small sites where there’s only one or two houses going to be built there. With these cases it’s more interesting getting around a bigger problem and taking satisfaction in getting the deal done.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
You need a varied skillset to be a successful solicitor. It’s not just negotiating and drafting contracts – it’s almost like being self-employed. You have to manage your workload and at the same time manage various clients who all want to be the most important client. You've got to go and find work and do business development, meet people, and make sure that you get on with those people so that the work keeps coming. But on top of all of that, you've got to do a great job, and doing a great job might mean different things to different clients: it might mean getting in there as quickly as possible, or it might mean helping them achieve satisfactory result in terms of price drop or negotiating a particularly good term or position. So, it's understanding what the client needs and being able to take that on board and make sure they come away satisfied.
What do you enjoy about the wider culture at Shoosmiths?
The main thing I’ve found since working here is that there's a great people culture and an open-door policy. Everyone is very approachable and the partners always have time for you. The fact that when you go to get a coffee, you can just stop for a chat with someone to break up the daily routine makes you feel like you're working with real people. There’s also a great social scene here at Shoosmiths. I’m head of the social committee and we run events throughout the year, plus other groups of people organise their own ad hoc events.
What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?
A lot of firms talk about having a good work-life balance and sometimes that is just lip service. Here at Shoosmiths, everyone understands that people have got real lives and there’s a real flexibility to our work. Obviously, we have to meet the demands within the business and of our clients, so sometimes that means working in the evenings or at the weekend. But I’m certainly not a slave to the job and I think there’s a real understanding that someone will be far more productive overall if they feel they are trusted to work when it’s required.
What’s your desert island disc?
Love is Hell by Ryan Adams.