A day in the life
Three junior housing lawyers open up about why they went into housing law, what their day job is like, and why, in a time of great change, the housing sector is a rewarding place to be
Joanne Hadley, associate at Cobbetts
‘I am an associate at Cobbetts and have worked in the property litigation team since I qualified in October 2007. When I first joined the team, I acted for clients in relation to commercial property disputes. However, at that time, a colleague was acting for a number of public sector clients dealing with a variety of housing management matters. She needed some assistance and so I started working with her on some of her possession and disrepair cases, as well as other housing disputes. It soon became apparent to me that, while I enjoyed dealing with commercial disputes, housing was very interesting and allowed me to be involved in all sorts of unusual cases. I realised that residential landlord and tenant law was something that I would like to specialise in.
‘At around that time, many of the provisions of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 had recently come into force, which changed how social landlords dealt with their homeownership properties, and a number of housing associations were approaching us for advice. In particular, there was a large number of service charge disputes. Up until that point, any legal proceedings for the cases I was dealing with were dealt with by the court but the service charge and other leasehold management cases required me to become involved in proceedings in the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.
‘Now, my days are varied as I deal with commercial property disputes, housing management and also leasehold management cases. Each day is different. Although a lot of the procedures I deal with are the same (such as preparing legal papers, collating witness statements and dealing with the court or tribunal directions), my approach to each matter and the tactics which I employ differ depending upon the circumstances which means that there is a high level of variety in my work.
‘I work about 10 hours a day on average - plus some weekends. I am very fortunate as my job allows me to meet very interesting people both in terms of the clients who instruct me, and also the tenants and leaseholders who I come across on cases. It is especially gratifying when I am able to facilitate a satisfactory agreement between the client and their tenant or leaseholder so that full legal proceedings can be avoided. That is always the best outcome for the parties’ ongoing relationship.
‘My most interesting case so far? The one I’m working on right now, acting for a housing co-operative to recover possession of a property comprising residential, commercial and farm land. The nature of the dispute is intellectually demanding; there is a real sense of seeking justice, and the clients are nice people, which is always good.’
David Perry, associate at Shoosmiths
‘I’m an associate in Shoosmiths’ full-service social housing property team, having joined six years ago from a smaller firm specialising in social housing work.
‘We act for many registered providers on everything property-related, whether that’s acquisition, development, sales, management, stock transfers, funding or litigation. I specialise in transactional property work, including technical legal and policy matters. I went into housing law because the clients are interesting and vary a great deal. I also enjoy the work in this area; it’s challenging.
‘The immediate team includes a partner, three associates, a solicitor, a chartered legal executive and three paralegals. We also work closely with our planning, construction, tax and banking teams, as well as commercial, employment and litigation colleagues. Being part of such a close-knit team means we can talk through issues and swap ideas easily.
‘I’ve recently worked with various clients on matters as diverse as cost management on preserved right to buy sales, arrears management policies for repossession staircasing, and providing training for development teams on selling plots at an earlier stage of construction.
‘I’m currently helping one of my clients to develop a new tenure structure for Homes and Communities Agency approval, which is particularly exciting - not only am I helping a client deliver practical solutions to a specific problem, but the results could have a much wider sector application.
‘Much of what I do involves discussing technical issues with clients and giving them different perspectives to consider. What they may see as a one-off inconvenience - high repossession staircasing claims on several plots, or registration delays on “golden brick” developments - which allow landlords to avoid paying VAT when they buy new affordable homes - we may see as a wider sector trend. We’re then able to turn this experience into policy advice for senior management teams and deliver real value.
‘I work eight to 10 hours a day - more towards the end of March when the associations have their year-end. No two days are alike and I get to work with interesting clients on demanding projects with real social value.
‘Most interesting case so far? Too many to list, but the new tenure development work I’m involved with is high on the list as it’s technically challenging and commercially important for the client.’
Jo Till, solicitor at Trowers & Hamlins
‘I am a lawyer in Trowers & Hamlins’ housing projects department. I am also a member of the firm’s care team, which specialises in advising providers that operate in the social care sector.
‘Before training as a lawyer, I spent several years working for a local authority, advising on housing and council tax benefit entitlement, as well as dealing with a range of related housing and homelessness queries. I enjoyed the technical and advisory aspects of these roles and moving into law seemed a logical next step. I wanted to work within the housing sector and it was Trowers’ expertise in social housing which first attracted me to the firm.
‘I work about nine hours a day in the office and every day is different. With so much going on in the housing world at the moment, the projects we are asked to advise on are very varied. For example, I am currently acting for a major care provider on the acquisition and development of a new, specialist extra-care scheme and for a number of social landlords on the acquisition of new general needs housing. Some of this housing is being secured through section 106 obligations and much of it will be affordable, either constructed or converted using (at least in part) grant secured under the current affordable homes programme.
‘Another social landlord has recently asked a team at Trowers to advise them on the development of their affordable rent strategy, which has involved looking at issues ranging from the client’s charitable status to potential public law risks. The impending welfare reforms are obviously also a key concern for many clients and I regularly advise on welfare-related issues. For example, recent work has included reporting on the scope of the new social security information-sharing regulations which were published in July.
‘With so much new policy and legislation emerging, the move to affordable rent, the green deal and energy company obligation about to come into force, key welfare reforms about to bite and the findings of the recent Montague and Institute for Public Policy Research report to chew over, we know that clients have plenty to think about.’