Housing/landlord & tenant

Housing/landlord & tenant

Edd Thompson

Blaser Mills

University: University of Newcastle
Undergraduate degree: Law

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 residential landlords and tenants, and these supplement 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 all this, disputes arise regularly and this is where lawyers step in to help resolve conflict. Lawyers encounter every kind of problem from bankrupt restaurateurs with back rent to pay to unlawful sub-lettings and the mysterious appearance of a roof extension or cellar. In the field of housing law, much of the work relates to the statutory obligations of public authorities to the poor or homeless.

Edd Thompson was drawn to law by a hankering for professional challenge, and he went on to study both an undergraduate law degree at the University of Newcastle and a master’s in international relations at the University of Bristol: “I knew that I wanted a job that would offer something different every day and that would keep me on my toes. And it has proved true; there is never a day when you can just sit here, pushing buttons on your keyboard and plodding along. I did various admin summer jobs that made me realise that I wanted to be challenged every day and law does that.” Life as a solicitor appealed more than that of barrister, primarily because of the “prospect of sustained client interaction and being involved in much greater depth with a client’s business”.

Edd’s training contract was not a conventional one, starting at the Bank of Ireland as part of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA’s) work-based learning pilot scheme and ending at a law firm to complete it. He describes the process: “I spent my first 18 months at the bank, working in litigation in the in-house team. Unfortunately, the Irish economy hit rock bottom and the bank couldn’t offer me the final six months of experience. So I moved to a South West firm to complete my contract, adding on an extra six months for good measure. Being involved with the SRA pilot was fascinating, but the burden of work was heavy, especially in terms of evidencing everything to the standard required. That said, it was a great opportunity and I think it’s a valuable way of doing things.”

After being retained at the firm, Edd practised there for a further 18 months before moving first to Dentons and then to Blaser Mills, where he has now been for about a year and a half. He describes his role: “My practice is very varied, which is what I love about it. It is academically rigorous, you need to get to grips with both the non-contentious property side and the litigious side, and you have to be very organised. One day I can be out on a site visit with surveyors, and the next I’m pitching to the management company of a block of flats. There is never a typical day.” In fact, that’s the best part of the job, in Edd’s view: “No two days or clients are ever the same. There is a new challenge every day and I enjoy that. The unpredictability of the hours can be hard sometimes, but everyone knows about that, even at an undergraduate stage, so you are prepared for it to be a feature of the job.”

Edd is currently acting for the freehold owner of a very large block of flats, going through a tribunal process to have defective leases that were created in the 1960s varied. “I have to juggle 50 leases for 50 different flats at the same time, creating an administrative nightmare!” he laughs. “It is very complicated and interesting subject matter. Big projects like this can take months to resolve, so you have to be prepared to keep battling on and stick it out, knowing that there may be quieter periods in between.”

There is also an entirely different side to the role, requiring a different set of skills – that of business development: “I was lucky enough to be invited to tender for work by two big property management companies; I led the pitches and won both, which was very rewarding. I came away feeling proud of my work and the firm. The ability to pitch well is not something you are taught at university or on the LPC, and it is certainly very different to my day job.”

Edd cites the relatively new rules related to deposit regulation as an area that practitioners in this field are watching closely: “In residential tenancies the security deposit must be placed in a specific scheme, with hefty penalties for non-compliance. It has thrown up a lot of cases and I predict that there will be plenty more to come.” More broadly for the firm as a whole, it is the thorny topic of funding that requires attention: “Gone are the days when you could just send out a client engagement letter and state how much you charge; now, the challenge is to be innovative in the way we agree funding methods with clients. Alternative business structures are likely to lead the way, but the profession as a whole – and particularly commercial firms such as ours – need to look at it.”

Making training contract applications stand out will be helped by evidence of work experience, either at a law firm or, as Edd suggests, with the client of a law firm: “It’s always useful to have had some experience as a client, perhaps where you’ve instructed solicitors or have observed it first hand, so that you know what that interface looks like from the other side. That perspective helps you to know how a client will react and what they want, allowing you to deal with them effectively in practice.”

Securing that type of experience is more likely to happen if you seize the bull by the horns and use any contacts you may have. Edd reminds us that there is no point in being shy when it comes to networking: “My gran always said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” – if you meet someone and you get on well, don’t be afraid to ask for a favour. It’s not going to do any harm and the worse that can happen is that they say no. One of the things I never realised as an undergraduate is how much as a qualified solicitor you are involved with networking and business development. It is an important part of the job, and if I’d known that, I would have spent more time developing those skills and making the most of opportunities. Even in terms of having good relationships with lecturers and tutors; one of my colleagues has left to lecture at St Mary’s University and still has many contacts here, so he is in the position to recommend that we take on people here for some experience. It’s always worth an ask.”

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