Construction & engineering

Construction & engineering

Paul Hargreaves

Walker Morris LLP

University: Leeds Beckett University
Degree: Law

Contentious construction work involves the resolution of disputes by way of litigation, mediation, adjudication or arbitration. Non-contentious work involves drafting and negotiating contracts and advising on projects, insurance, health and safety, environmental matters and insolvency. Clients range from industry associations, insurers, contractors, architects, engineers, public authorities and government bodies to major companies and partnerships.

While it is self-evident that the majority of solicitors follow the most common route to professional qualification – undergraduate degree, law school (GDL and/or LPC) and training contract – it should always be remembered that other paths do exist, and that law is a career that remains accessible to those who commit to practising it at various different stages of their professional lives.

Paul Hargreaves is one of those who took “a more alternative route”, although his career with his current law firm Walker Morris began long before his formal legal education. “I started working for Walker Morris in 1999, in what was then WM Claims, our personal injury unit,” he explains. “I had no formal legal qualifications; a lot of personal injury firms will have a select number of qualified lawyers, the rest will be case handlers/fee earners, and I started as a case handler. In 2001 I left Walker Morris because I wanted to travel; I visited a variety of different countries and ended up in Australia working for Aon Insurance. When I returned to the United Kingdom, I came back to Walker Morris and decided that law was the career for me. I did a law degree part time at Leeds Metropolitan University (as it was called then). It was two evenings a week for a four-year period. While studying, I was working full time.”

Hard work pays

All the hard work and effort paid off; Paul did the LPC in 2008 and was offered a training contract with Walker Morris which began in 2009. Two years later Paul qualified as a solicitor, was shortlisted for “Associate Solicitor of the Year” at the British Legal Awards 2015 and is now a director at the firm. He admits that he did consider training at a few other firms, but Walker Morris won out. “It was an easy choice, really,” he says. “I knew the people, I knew and liked the firm, and I liked what it stands for. I knew my training contract would provide me with close personal supervision and also a high level of responsibility to get involved in cases and run my own files. Although I did research other firms and thought about going down to London, at heart I knew that what I was looking for was here."

At the start of his training contract, Paul thought that his previous experiences would mean he would specialise and qualify into a litigation role, but during his six-seat rotation he briefly dabbled with the idea of regulatory law, before settling in the firm's construction and engineering department.

“What I find in construction is that it’s a great area in which to be a litigator as there are still a large number of disputes”

Big ticket to ride

“It was the big-ticket litigation that did it,” he recalls. “What I find in construction is that it’s a great area in which to be a litigator as there are still a large number of disputes, which is great for us. Walker Morris is quite unique in its approach at getting junior lawyers more involved at an earlier stage that other firms; since qualification I have been involved in a number of significant cases, including representing 96 claimants in a claim involving issues arising out of the Defective Premises Act 1972 and which included a four-week trial before Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart in the Technology & Construction Court.”

Not all trainees will be lucky enough to get involved in such high-rolling cases, of course, but Paul assures us that there is very real work to keep them busy: “We make sure that the trainees are part of the team from the word go. You are given work to do and you’re certainly not spending your days photocopying – we see that as a waste of talent. We want them to be trained up as quickly as possible, working as quickly as possible and fee-earning as quickly as possible. One of the things I know from speaking to peers at other firms is that we are known for giving trainees a large amount of responsibility. This means that trainees can hit the ground running in the departments into which they qualify.”

The construction and engineering team as whole does a mix of contentious and non-contentious work, such as drafting building contracts, bond guarantees and warranties. This insulates it to a degree from the infamous changes of fortune that characterise the construction industry, which are traditionally closely linked to the political and economic climate.

“No one really knows how the result of the Brexit referendum will affect things,” muses Paul. “I think it is going to be quite challenging for all sectors, including construction. There certainly needs to be a lot more building within the United Kingdom – certainly more houses, as there is a massive shortage – but to be able to do that we need money. That said, in construction, when it’s boom time we are dealing with a lot of development work and we are doing a lot of non-contentious work. As soon as you get a recession, people are more inclined to revisit issues and that is when you get involved in litigation. So you get both ends, and at the moment we have a good mix here at Walker Morris.”

Fledgling lawyers keen to get involved in the non-contentious side of the practice should show an interest in construction work in general, believes Paul, so they should be looking at the building press and architectural journals to find out what is happening in the sector.

As for those interested in the contentious side of construction – which, as Paul confirms, is an excellent place for litigation-hungry lawyers – they need to be able to process large volumes of technical data. “In law generally there is a significant amount of information that you have to be able to digest and assimilate,” he explains. “But certainly in construction work, and defect work in particular, you can be faced with 300-page reports about a subject in which you have limited knowledge and you have to be able to pick that up relatively quickly and be able to put it to your client in a succinct manner that they will understand. That is a skill in itself.”

Paul finishes with a word of warning for those who are not sure they are cut out for the legal profession: “If you don’t really like this job, don’t do it! That applies to all areas of the law. It’s not a soft option. It is hard work and long hours sometimes. But it can be incredibly intellectually satisfying and worthwhile – or at least I think so; but then I am very interested in the law.”

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