“I often get asked why I chose law and while I’d love to be all poetic about it and say law chose me, it was actually because of my dad’s advice. I found it difficult to make a career choice at 18, and still think it’s a huge ask to do that, but my dad advised me to keep my options open as long as I could.
A law degree is well respected, it didn’t necessarily mean I had to go and be a lawyer, so my thought process was to do that and see what happened. I knew I wanted to do something that involved working with people, and law at least ticked that box too.
I studied law at Hull with a year out in Utrecht, so I got a Law and European Legal Studies degree. There are so many aspects of law that it can be difficult to find one area to specialise in. But there were certain areas that I thought were quite interesting, such as human rights, as well as criminal law, and the theology behind them both. This steered my hunt for a trainee contract and at the time, Berry & Lamberts did criminal law so I joined as a trainee in 1998 in the Tunbridge Wells office. I soon realised that being a criminal lawyer was not as glamorous as I thought. I also did some time in the property department, but it didn’t really float my boat either. But the litigation department was so wide, and I discovered I was pretty good at it. It covered all sorts, property disputes, employment, business, and contract disputes. I knew that if I qualified, I’d find something there to focus on.
Thankfully I did qualify and in 2000 was moved to the Tonbridge office, where I remained for eight years cutting my teeth. We did a lot of legal aid work for landlords and tenants with social housing. I gave the local housing associations a few too many bloody noses so they turned round and asked me to act for them rather than against them, which was good. I also got involved with the Chamber of Commerce, giving talks on employment law.
Broad exposure like that was great for building up my network of connections. You find that as you progress through your career, the connections you make progress too. You might talk to someone who’s an office junior, but in time they become a manager, the decision maker. I’ve always stood by the mantra that it’s important to treat everyone equally. Surrounding yourself with the right people is, I believe, the key to being happy at work and in work.
As time went by, I was asked to become a Partner and went out to the Maidstone office we had then. That was in 2009 just after the financial crash and although we had a strong legal aid office there, the private work wasn’t too hot. I suggested we concentrate on our core business in Tunbridge Wells so I moved to the Tunbridge Wells office as head of litigation and at the same time joined the management board.
Life rarely stands still in a law firm, and as the person doing our commercial work was heading towards retirement, I got involved with employment disputes and looking at shareholders agreements and terms and conditions of their business that govern how they react with their clients and their suppliers. I was interested in business sales, enjoying watching businesses grow and expand, and then when it’s time to sell the business, helping them through that process. It was then a natural step to move towards the commercial work.
I love working for businesses and getting to know the people behind them. Talking with them about their shareholders agreement is a really good way of getting them to think about their business. It governs the relationship between the owners of the business, and they’ve got to have a really honest conversation to say, look, this is how we see this business going for the future. It’s great to have those conversations and to then document that and hopefully, they can put that piece of paper in the drawer and never look at it again. But if there is an issue, they’ve got it there to refer to. It also means that we’ve got an insight as to what they want to do with their business.
In 2018, the then Managing Partner at Berry & Lamberts retired. When the Partners were asked who wanted to do it, I was the last person to step back. It was nice to be asked and accepted, and I tell myself it wasn’t because no one else wanted the job!
Five years on and we’ve got a good management team in place now. Again, it’s about the people you surround yourself with. The firm today is steered by the personalities behind it, all who bring different things to the table. Rob Moseley is super commercial and so efficient and I think he’s built up the best property department in Tunbridge Wells. I can say that because I’m not in it and can see what he’s done! Yashin Masoliver is one of the best family solicitors in Tunbridge Wells. You want empathy and understanding from a family lawyer and you get that in buckets with Yash. My skill is bringing it all together and conveying it to the whole firm. If you live and act by your beliefs, they will be echoed and bought into.
In terms of our business approach, we need to be commercial. But we always make it clear we are not a London firm outside London. We want to be – and I really feel we are – that approachable firm where you can walk in without being overawed by the legal process. We strive to keep a local feel while looking like a professional business as well. Being down to earth and relatable is so important – that might be the Yorkshireman in me!
Beyond the management team, Berry’s is full of great people who all get along. Our turnover of staff is really low, even in the current climate where I know recruitment agents will be calling on a weekly basis. Our people are staying with us, and that’s because we try to be honest with them, making sure they’ve got a good work life balance and creating an environment where they feel happy coming into work.
I really like seeing businesses and people develop, inside and outside the firm. Watching how they’ve come on and how we can continue to assist them and then seeing how that in turn affects our business. Helping people through their lives is a massive positive and I certainly get a kick out of it. The one thing that I would still love to do would be some work for Fender Guitars – combining my love of playing guitar and helping a business would be a dream come true.”