A poacher turned gamekeeper

I was in private practice for more than 30 years as managing Partner of an established practice and then in 1993 started my own firm with two friends. I qualified as a Solicitor Advocate shortly after the law changed to allow us to practice in the higher courts. I worked in both civil and criminal law and have over the years had cases at every level save for the European Court.

In July last year everything changed. I left private practice and joined a local PLC which runs a professional rugby team ( currently top of the Premiership) and the largest conference and hospitality venue southwest of Bristol. The business turnover is in excess of £20million and has a legal budget of about £100,00 in the current year. I joined as a main board Director and Company Secretary. I have in my litigation practice worked regularly with company and commercial issues not only in contract but disputes over leases and shareholders rights. However from a purely legal point of view it has been an immensely steep learning curve. Within my first three months there was an EGM over a proposal to build a 4 star hotel on site ( hence the large legal budget for this year ) an AGM and a members meeting. I have had to learn about the business side of a premiership rugby team and all that it entails. As I worked at one time in hospitality the conference side is less challenging but the legal issues of managing a sport stadium are interesting to say the least. Predictably as I often defended Health and Safety prosecutions I am Director responsible for that discipline as well. Interesting when on a match day we water and feed a 13,000 crowd including corporate boxes and entertainment suites.

What however has been most interesting is managing the relationship with external lawyers. Costs are suddenly something you want to avoid rather than maximise!! The Board had been very indulgent of the company’s lawyers and costs had escalated. I have introduced budgeting, quotes and challenged the last few bills with scrutiny of their time records. Things are now on a much more sensible footing. Fortunately I get on well with their lead lawyer and am enjoying working with him on some of the pure company act compliance which falls to me.

So what is the relevance of this to SAHCA and to you as Solicitor Advocates. Firstly I think I am the only committee member who has been “in house” and it brings a different viewpoint to the committee. The sort of cases my advocacy permitted me to handle has given me experience which as just a non-corporate solicitor I would not otherwise have had. It has also I think equipped me to analyse problems quickly and the experience of preparing skeleton arguments has helped me put forward succinct board reports. Dealing with challenging judges has certainly helped me deal with the CEO!!

I have not had any litigation to deal with yet but when I do my knowledge and understanding of what is involved will certainly lead me to use a Solicitor Advocate. However he or she will have to expect a brutal negotiation over costs!

So for anyone thinking of a move from private practice there is life out there and it is quite fascinating.

Chris Over