ARC Pensions Law, London
Since childhood everyone agreed that I was an arguer and destined for law. I tried to resist the siren call but never came up with anything else. In the 1970s I had a summer job at a local firm. I’d make tea for the partners and colour copies of plans with crayons. I thought: yeah, I can do this.
The law I learnt at Oxford wasn’t much use but I also learnt how to find things out for myself. This stood me in good stead. I remember nothing of the College of Law except drudgery, but the articles system was great.
The 1980s was still a sexist era; I felt tolerated but not welcomed. Later on, coming back to work when my children were very small was the hardest thing. It’s not perfect now but women get a lot more support than they used to.
My career has been pretty much a straight track, though I have recently gone from big law to very small law. The relationships between solicitor and client are the same. I try to be real when I’m advising. The £1.6bn buy-in I did in 2014 was a big deal in every sense. Taking the plunge to set up ARC Pensions Law was also a big deal. No one had ever set up a major specialist pensions law firm from scratch.
There used to be very little pensions law and many people had wonderful company pensions giving them dignity and comfort in old age. Over the last 30 years there’s been a lot of new law from parliament and the courts. Most of it was well-intentioned, but not all of it.
The amount of member protection seems to be in inverse proportion to the amount of law. It’s the classic law of unintended consequences. I worry that the legal requirements are now so rigid that many pension schemes feel they dare not enquire about many issues.
Traditional pension schemes are being dismantled and there’s another mis-selling scandal around the corner. It’s depressing. Economic reasons would have changed things anyway but the legal changes have undermined employers’ goodwill, engagement and paternalism. Maybe trustees used to be a bit too trusting of the employer but in general the outcomes for pension scheme members were better.
One thing that has been gained is that there was no safety net until 2006 and that was unconscionable. The Pension Protection Fund has literally been a lifesaver for many. There’s also more focus on governance – the benefits of following a proper process – which is good.
The legal profession is under attack on many fronts. I hope we can reform ourselves in terms of diversity and social mobility, and that we can find more ways of working that support lawyers and reduce stress.
Whatever your views on austerity, access to justice is surely a feature of a civilised society and we seem to have moved a long way backwards on public funding. Lawyers need to be open to whatever it takes to improve efficiency and cut costs, without losing the personal touch and commitment to serving the best interests of our clients that are the hallmarks of our profession.