Head of the housing department, Miles & Partners, London
I suppose my decision to pursue a legal career came in stages. My family were keen for me to pursue a profession as soon as possible after leaving university. I come from a long line of teachers, but I never saw full-time teaching as my calling. So after my legal studies and a period of volunteering I decided that a legal career, and in particular litigation, would suit me best.
The satisfaction of the job is guiding clients through the litigation process and helping them recover their identity and self-esteem. I found that I had an aptitude for building and structuring arguments in an effective and convincing way.
Being a good lawyer involves performing a number of roles in addition to being an adviser: counsellor, psychologist, social worker. The departments where I trained (family, mental health, crime and housing) helped to round me as a lawyer. Of course, training does not stop upon qualification and each day presents new challenges.
Adapting the department to the legal aid reforms and LASPO has probably been the most challenging task so far. There may be more to come, with the possible reappearance of the residence test in another guise and civil litigation fixed fees.
I take a lot of pride in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court cases in which I have been involved. However, about 10 years ago I helped out a man whose landlord had evicted him and thrown his belongings out in the street. He effectively became destitute, was placed in emergency accommodation and his landlord disappeared. After an 18-month struggle we managed to get him some compensation. I never heard from him again. Then, two years ago, I was returning to the office one lunchtime and he came up to me out of the blue and asked me if I remembered him. He then proceeded to tell me how he had got married and settled into a nice flat in the centre of town. This was a nice reminder that clients can continue to think well of you.
It’s never easy advising a client when the law cannot meet their aspirations, particularly when you have a lot of sympathy for their predicament and you believe they deserve a better deal. At those times, you just have to leave it to others to help out.
The recent ‘right to rent’ legislation, whose aim is to prevent the letting of property to individuals without the right to remain in the UK, is both malicious and unworkable.
Working in the legal aid sector since I qualified in 2004 has allowed me to see at first hand the dramatic erosion of and restrictions imposed on access to justice. This goes hand in hand with the social housing and welfare reforms, whose aim is to gentrify the inner cities, particularly London.
Some limited progress has been made in improving private sector tenant rights, for example in the area of tenancy deposits and retaliatory evictions. However, I fear this is the flip side of diminishing tenant rights in the public sector.