Managing partner, Unity Law
I was one of the shortest in my year at school and became fairly adept at negotiating my way out of trouble. That, combined with a natural sense of what was right (and being fairly hopeless at maths and science) pushed me towards me a legal career.
I struggled to focus on aspects of the law which appeared to have little real-world application. The LPC at the University of Sheffield ran through the transactional process of a case which demonstrated how the theories and case law translated into practice. That was the best preparation for my transition into practice.
Managing people inside a law firm is the hardest challenge I’ve faced as a lawyer. When the cases I worked on as a young lawyer began to generate media attention people reacted differently. Opponents worked harder to beat me, lawyers in my own firm competed and some resented the profile and opportunities it brought. Steering a steady course, avoiding being drawn into that and focusing on winning cases has been the safest solution.
Being able to think clearly when under extreme pressure brings perspective about what is and isn’t important generally. Also, this has helped me learn patience and to wait for the right time to identify and take the right argument.
The groundbreaking NIHL [noise-induced hearing loss] group litigation which started in the Nottingham High Court brought memorable moments – a pre-trial review in open court suddenly without counsel and responding to seven applications with two QCs and junior counsel against me was certainly character building.
Also, marshalling 35 retired textile machinists through the witness box with a crowd of managers and supervisors barracking, and ultimately then succeeding in the Court of Appeal. For a while our work upset the status quo, and since then the Supreme Court has gone on to change the way that NIHL cases are argued.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act is my least favourite law. People experiencing discrimination in service provision can’t now enforce the rights the Equality Act gives them without risking financial ruin unless QOCS [qualified one-way costs shifting] is extended to them. I hope that the Civil Justice Council working group will make recommendations to resolve the current problem.
It’s been made much more difficult to start a new practice. To work effectively and in a compliant way, a firm needs a core non-fee-earning infrastructure. To work cases effectively, a firm needs to use cutting edge IT. To build credibility involves a good deal of non-chargeable time, and sometimes taking a risky new legal point. All of this means that scale is important and, fundamentally, good financial backers.
This is no doubt better in terms of regulation and de-risking the market, but has adverse implications for social mobility and innovation in the market in years to come.