David qualified as a solicitor in 2015 and joined Colman Coyle as an Associate Solicitor in 2022. We sit down with him to hear his insight and ask a series of questions on his career to date.
Tell us about your journey to becoming an Associate Solicitor at Colman Coyle
My journey was anything but traditional. After ‘A levels,’ I worked full time for a year, before going to study law at university. As part of this degree, I took the opportunity to study abroad at one of the oldest universities in Europe.
This meant that I graduated in 2009, just when the financial crash meant that jobs, and in particular training contracts were scarce. I was luckily able to secure a paralegal role in a high street firm, before switching to (at the time) one of the biggest non-city firms in the country.
With jobs and training contracts still scarce, I decided to study the legal practice course on a weekend basis. This meant two years spending every other weekend in Guildford, on top of my full-time paralegal role. I was able to secure a training contract in a large regional firm, qualifying in 2015 as a litigation solicitor. I stayed at the same firm and obtained a promotion to associate a few years later.
With an increasing focus on property litigation from day one, since 2019, I have focused solely on property litigation.
In 2022, I joined the leading property litigation team at Colman Coyle.
What does a typical working day include for you?
One of the most interesting aspects of property litigation is that there is no such thing as a typical day. Property litigation includes a spectrum of issues. All of which require different considerations and different approaches.
Each client is unique and building a relationship with clients is key. For this reason, much of the day is spent communicating with clients. I always prefer to speak over the phone if possible.
Alternative dispute resolution can often be used to secure the most advantageous and cost-effective resolution of the dispute. Quite often I am involved in different methods to resolve a dispute.
Property litigation is focused on meeting deadlines. The court sets the timetable towards trial. The timetable will commonly include exchanging witness statements or expert reports. Each step usually requires analysing documents, liaising with various parties and drafting court documents.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your working life?
Working as a solicitor is about gaining knowledge, experience, constantly learning new skills and improving old skills. This never stops and continues throughout a legal career. I take a critical approach, reflecting at every opportunity and considering what I have learnt, how can I adapt and change in future.
A critical approach ensures that I maintain up to date skills and knowledge. This allows me continuously to achieve the ultimate objective for a property litigation solicitor, to understand the client’s objective and achieve the most advantageous result possible.
What do you do to relax?
I like to be active and enjoy the outdoors. On a Saturday morning I can usually be found at my local parkrun. On a Sunday afternoon, I enjoy hiking or cycling, usually through the Kent countryside.
What advice would you give to any aspiring solicitors?
A career in the legal profession can be challenging, initially to gain the experience required to enter the profession, and then after qualification with different demands. However, it is overcoming these challenges that makes working as a solicitor so interesting.
There will always be setbacks. Try and see these as learning experiences and consider what you can learn from them.
Make as many connections as you can. Attend training events, open days, speak to as many solicitors as possible. After connecting, develop a professional relationship. This allows you to build your own network.
What are the issues facing property litigation today?
2022 was another turbulent year for property litigation. 2023 looks to be just as turbulent.
The emergency legislation introduced during the covid pandemic has slowly come to an end. However, flexible hybrid working remains more widespread.
Inflation is running at a 40 year high, there are rising interest rates, and warnings of a recession.
The cost of occupying commercial premises is likely to be a significant overhead for most businesses. Therefore, tenants may start evaluating their property portfolios, to identify where savings can be made. This may see a rise in tenant’s exercising break clauses.
The commercial property market has already proven to be resilient and capable of change. Landlords may need to consider the type of properties within their portfolios. Will there be a rise in converting commercial buildings to residential purposes, or will the trend for flex space letting for commercial tenants gain more traction?
With a recession, rent arrears are likely to increase. Without government interference as seen in recent years, there is likely to be an increase in forfeiture claims.
What are does the future hold for property litigation?
From the 1st of April 2023, the next stage of the Minimum Energy Efficient Standard (MEES) comes into effect. This means that subject to certain exceptions, landlords of commercial properties must not continue to let a property with an EPC rating below an E. By 2030, the bar for MEES will be raised to an EPC B rating.
Both commercial landlord and tenants will need to consider the EPC rating of their property and the terms of the lease. This will involve considering what improvements to the property are necessary to meet the raising MEES requirements, and a careful analysis of the terms of the lease to confirm who will fund these works.
It is likely that environmental issues will become a more frequent issue in dilapidations claims and 1954 Act renewals.
Leasehold reform continues to be on the government’s agenda. The process has already started, most recently the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022, prohibited new ground rents.
More reforms are expected; however, the extent of these reforms is currently unknown. The complete abolition of leasehold has been reported in several newspapers after Michael Gove vowed to “scrap the feudal leasehold system.” The reforms are perhaps unlikely to go this far.
Instead, reforms are likely to focus on reducing the cost of extending leases and making it easier for leaseholders to take over their buildings.
The cost-of-living crisis may result in greater political pressure to help renters. A Renters Reform Bill may be introduced in 2023. The proposals include ending no fault evictions. This may lead to landlords considering whether they wish to continue to rent properties out.