Associate, dispute resolution, Gardner Leader

I paid myself through law school by working part-time despite not having a training contract. I then spent a very long time chasing a training contract. I must have written hundreds of letters.

I trained at a small firm in Surrey. It was good preparation, although in smaller firms in those days there was a bit of a ‘sink or swim’ attitude, where you were left to your own devices. That would never be allowed at my current firm. That said, I did get a lot of court experience, attending on agency matters on a weekly basis. Litigation has changed in recent years. Applications and case management conferences tend to be dealt with by negotiation or telephone as opposed to actual hearings. Newly qualified solicitors and trainees do not seem to get the court experience I did.

The hardest challenge I’ve faced was moving to Australia for three-and-a-half years in 2007. I moved to Melbourne with my husband’s work. While there I decided I wanted to continue my legal career. It was not possible for me to practise as a solicitor as I would have needed to requalify. Instead I applied for a role within the Banking Code Compliance Monitoring Committee. While it required legal qualification as a solicitor, it was unlike anything I had done. It involved the investigation of complaints from members of the public about banks that had breached the Australian Banking Code. Each case had to be decided on its merits and investigated fully, whether it related to a $2 bank charge or a $1m loan.  

In my area of law, contested probate and legacy disputes, a good lawyer needs to be strong and decisive. That said, the image of litigators as aggressive, and obtaining results by force and bullying tactics has long gone. The courts now encourage all parties to mediate and negotiate. I act on behalf of many charity clients, who have different needs to other types of corporate entity. Reputation is very important to them and they often also have very strong moral or religious beliefs.

A good lawyer sees more than just the law. I come into contact with a lot of charities and this ties in with my personal interests in charitable giving and helping. I am lucky that Gardner Leader is also of the same mindset. This year we made Naomi House, a children’s hospice in Hampshire, our firm charity.

The Woolf reforms came in at the start of my career. I don’t recall too much about the pre-Woolf days but I do remember the fuss surrounding their introduction. More recently, we have had changes to the way claims are funded and the types of insurance on offer. When I returned from Australia there was a lot of concern over the Jackson reforms and how this would affect the industry. The removal of legal aid for many claims and the changes to funding options have seriously affected the number of people who are able to fund litigation.

There are many private clients who just cannot afford to bring claims any more. This is sad as it does seem to affect the less affluent, who may have just as strong a claim but are concerned about incurring the costs.