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Firm: Trowers & Hamlins LLP
University: University of Oxford
Relationships between the owners and occupiers of properties, both residential and commercial, can be fraught with problems. There is a raft of UK legislation governing the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants, which supplements the contractual relationships between them. The terms of leases typically cover parties’ obligations, such as who is responsible for repairs to a building; how it may be used; and how and when rent will increase. Despite this, disputes arise regularly. Lawyers encounter all kinds of problems from bankrupt restaurateurs with back rent to pay, to unlawful sub-lettings and the mysterious appearance of a roof extension or cellar. More recently, lawyers have been dealing with issues arising as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, including tenants/businesses unable to pay rent.
If there’s one word to describe Emily Putz’s work in Trowers & Hamlins LLP’s property dispute resolution and litigation team, it would be varied – in terms of the type of clients and the work she gets involved in.
“I could be advising a housing association or a local authority on a residential development project, and in the same morning also be advising a private investment fund on a commercial landlord and tenant dispute over a breach of a leasehold covenant, for example,” Emily explains. Covering both residential and commercial real estate matters, her hands are certainly kept full as she juggles advisory work with the litigious.
Describing her route into the law from a history undergraduate degree, Emily says that becoming a solicitor was a choice made a few years after graduation, although she dabbled with the idea while studying at the University of Oxford. After completing her law conversion course, Emily trained at Trowers & Hamlins which she describes as a “fantastic two years” in which she sat in a variety of practice areas which “covered a mixture of transactional and contentious work and gave a good insight into the firm’s real estate backbone and client base”.
Real estate focus
Real estate was always in Emily’s eyeline, especially after completing work experience with in-house property teams and working as a paralegal in a law firm’s commercial property department. Undertaking seats with real estate teams during her training contract at Trowers & Hamlins confirmed these aspirations, while gaining experience in litigation “added a new angle to real estate that I hadn’t considered before”. It became a career that Emily could really see herself in.
Cut to a few years later and Emily has been qualified since 2016. She summarises her day-to-day work as “providing an advisory role for clients on a range of issues that may prove to be contentious”. As an example, “you might have a client that needs a steer on strategy for a development project where dispute and risk avoidance is key. The other side of the work involves resolving disputes that have already arisen – this might be through interparty correspondence, settlement discussions or alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation”.
“You might have a client that needs a steer on strategy for a development project where dispute and risk avoidance is key”
When litigation is unavoidable, Emily’s team will “get involved with pre-action correspondence, issuing or defending claims, case management, trial preparation and often working closely with barristers”.
What are the sorts of issues Emily deals with then? “Landlord and tenant issues on things like forfeiture, breaches of lease, rent arrears," she clarifies. "On bigger residential development projects this might involve advising clients on their obligations under a development agreement, and a whole array of other issues that come with that type of work.” As already mentioned, the work is varied and it can be difficult to define a typical day in the office.
Thrills of litigation
Emily most enjoys working with a vast variety of people, both within the firm and the clients she works for. “It’s always great to work together on matters with colleagues and clients to achieve your objectives,” she says. “Although in litigation you’re working against the other side, teamwork still plays a big part when acting on a dispute especially when barristers are involved and matters go all the way to trial.”
“You don’t ever forget that first win in court as a litigator”
In terms of a career highlight, Emily says that “you don’t ever forget that first win in court as a litigator”. Although her first victory was a relatively straightforward landlord and tenant dispute, “nothing compares to that feeling of success you get when the judgment is handed down. It’s great to know you’ve achieved a good outcome for your client, and that all your hard work preparing for the case has paid off.”
Building safety legislation
Looking to the future, Emily discusses the new building safety regime that’s being introduced following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. The Building Safety Act 2022 received royal assent in April 2022 and aims to make reforms to give residents and homeowners more rights, powers and protection. For Emily and her clients, it’s a huge development that’s “incredibly complex and fast evolving”. She explains that there are a “whole array of regulations that haven’t been introduced yet on the horizon and there are likely to be disputes arising from that statutory framework, on topics such as service charge recoverability of building safety costs”.
Emily and her team are busy advising clients to help them implement new policies and practices in light of the act. “We’re needing to digest the law quickly and to help clients apply it to their organisations.”
Another issue Emily identifies as currently shaking up the practice area is the big shift towards net zero and sustainability. “It’s going to present a huge challenge to landlord clients whether residential or commercial,” she explains. As businesses navigate these changes, Emily’s team will be on hand to advise and resolve disputes that may arise along the way. For those looking to enter this area of the law, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for the developments as they happen and staying updated with the latest case law as it comes out of the courts.
Communication skills mandatory
A big part of a lawyer’s job is to “be able to digest complex pieces of legislation, particularly with property law, and explain how they apply to a client’s situation in a concise and user-friendly way”, Emily says. Communication skills are therefore very important to work on and demonstrate as you enter this practice.
She also notes the significance of “being organised, particularly when it comes to complying with court deadlines” and drafting skills – “not just for statements of case, but also inter-solicitor correspondence, as the ability to clearly and persuasively set out a client’s position can help parties to reach a settlement or resolve a dispute before going to court”.
Emily advises students to keep an open mind “in terms of what areas of law you want to practise” and to “get as much work experience as possible because any work experience (even non-law) can be relevant to your application”. For budding lawyers at the beginning of their careers, she iterates the importance of “realising you’re never going to be an expert in everything, and it’s ok to not know all the answers”. A training contract is a fantastic opportunity to learn and ask questions, and you should remember that “almost everyone you come across in the legal profession – even the most senior partner – will have experienced feelings of imposter syndrome at some point during their career”.