New *particular People

After the ups and downs of 2016, I’m delighted to announce the arrival of new people at *particular, all of whom you may have seen around and about at Campus North (where you’ll find our office upstairs at the far end of the lounge) had you been here over the last couple of months.

Asif Malik joined us as an Associate Solicitor in January. Having qualified nearly 3 years ago, Asif had worked in the early part of his career as a claimant personal injury lawyer. However, he is dual-qualified, having had a previous career as an accountant, so he’s as at home with cap tables and balance sheets as he is with tax and corporate law. Which makes him perfect for corporate finance work and that’s what we’ve hired him to do.

Before accountancy, Asif ran his own businesses and worked for a while as a taxi driver in Newcastle. As a result of which he knows everyone and everywhere in the toon. In fact, he seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city’s commercial landlords. If he looks a bit tired and haggard, that’s not down to the fact that he’s on a second career and therefore a little more, er, mature than your typical junior lawyer. It’s because his wife recently gave birth to their second child.

Barry Arkle also joined us as an Associate in January. Barry is a Chartered Legal Executive who specialises in dispute resolution – what used to be called ‘litigation’, which, if you’re wondering, is what Harvey on ‘Suits’ does. Most people seem to be familiar with Harvey. Fortunately for us, although he has less hair, Barry is far more friendly than Harvey and doesn’t shout at all.

Barry worked for a number of years in insolvency and so is well placed to assist should you want to close a business before starting another. Or if you have a client who is pleading poverty. For the last few years, Barry has nurtured a specialism in IP, having joined us from Sintons, where he worked alongside Pippa Aitken, our chum who leads the IP team there. Since joining us, Barry has been doing some commercial IP work too, much as I did when joining Watson Burton, all those many years ago. Since Deb’s departure last year, I have been keenly aware that I have been the only, shall we say, ‘seasoned’ member of the team. Fortunately, that has changed with Barry’s arrival, which makes me very happy indeed. Despite this, whilst I get out of breath at the sight of a staircase, Barry can be seen everyday swapping his flat cap for a cycling helmet.

Matthew ‘Dodge’ Donnelly joined us in January as a Trainee Solicitor, having previously worked for us as a Paralegal. He is the first solicitor that we have employed not to have studied at Northumbria University, having graduated from Hull University, a distinction of which he is insufferably proud. He is also a dedicated follower both of pop culture and of sport and, sadly for him, is now the only Mackam in the office.

As a trainee, Matt will be doing a little bit of everything (he has already proven himself quite comfortable with cap tables and the like) and, being adept with this sort of thing, he has been able to persuade the Law Society to knock a couple of months of his training contract (which would otherwise have been 2 years), meaning he now qualifies in October 2018. This because of the amount of time he spent working as a paralegal whilst not travelling around the world. That again being something that he tells us of incessantly. Although most of his stories seem to involve working with Italians on a farm in Australia or drinking unspeakable concoctions in Vietnam.

Amy Gatenby joins us officially on 8 May, although she has been doing unpaid work with us as a work experience person for a while now. She is coming to the end of her studies at Northumbria University, graduating this summer with an “LLM” – that’s a Masters in Law. So like Nick before her, she will actually be more qualified than me, though being the boss, I choose not to put my faith in such things. Amy is working initially as a Paralegal and will be handling our admin as well as more straightforward legal tasks. In November, she will transform magnificently into our next trainee solicitor.

Amy hails from the Teesside Riviera (otherwise known as Redcar) but has chosen to make Newcastle her home. Notwithstanding both of these things, she is a dedicated follower of fashion (and, I hope, fashtech) and writes a fashion-blog that has frankly, far more followers than Deb and I ever managed to attract to particular.pro. Given the subject matter (and Amy’s ability to bring it to life), perhaps that’s not surprising.

You Will Be Assimilated

KPMG has launched a funded programme that will support talented school leavers through a degree at Durham University and then into qualification as a baby chartered accountants.  These undergraduates are to divide their time between university and KPMG’s practice.  KPMG says it wants these school leaver schemes to provide the majority of its annual trainee recruitment.  Catrin Griffiths, editor of The Lawyer magazine, argues this week that law firms should be doing the same.  I think she’s bonkers.  Here’s why.

Who the hell knows what they want to do at 18?  All I was interested in was beer, Van Halen (it was 1987, I’m much cooler now, 20 years too late) and Norwich City Football Club.  In fact, when I left university, the only thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want to be a lawyer.  Indeed, my university career constituted a record of galactic underachievement.  At the end of the first term of the second year, Prof Phil Williams, who was in many ways my mentor, left the university to take up the Chair of Politics at Chicago University.  Before he departed, he told me that he would be looking for my name on the list of those achieving first class honours.  “Right,” thought I, “I can spend the next 18 months living it up, in the process generally avoiding work wherever possible and still come out with a 2(1).”  Which I did, and ended up with a 2(ii).  Cue stock market crash, general global recession and no job.  Welcome to the real world, 1991

Of course, my indecision might also have had something to do with the fact that I came from a family of lawyers.  My father was a partner in a mid-sized law firm and went on to be a barrister.  My maternal grandfather was a High Court judge and was the Chief Justice of The Bahamas (where I was born).  My baby brother became a barrister.  I even married a barrister.  In fact, when I’m presenting, I sometimes introduce myself, being the only solicitor in the family, as – get this – the white sheep of the family.  Oh, I crack myself up.

Of course, everyone knows somebody that is the exception to the rule.  My wife watched an episode of Crown Court when she was 10 and from that moment she only ever wanted to be a barrister.  In fact, sometimes I think she’s only really happy when destroying witnesses in cross-examination or waxing lyrical to a jury.  She’s now one of the pre-eminent practitioners in her field in the region and was appointed two years ago as a Recorder.  To you non-lawyers, that’s a part-time Crown Court judge, not a beginner’s woodwind instrument, which would, of course, be ridiculous.

But as a rule of thumb, when an A-level studying work experience person (a “WEP”, as we like to call them) tells me that they want to be a solicitor more than anything else in the world, I give them the bent eye.  “Really?” I quip.  “When I was your age, I still wanted to be an astronaut”.  In fact, I never wanted to be an astronaut.  I’m terrified of heights.

I have found, in delivering seminars and such like at universities across the north of England, that by and large, trying to do anything useful with undergraduates is a waste of time and valuable one-liners.  The lecture hall is divided between dozing largely British undergraduates playing hangman on their iBerrys, and attentive largely Asian students sat across the front rows respectfully tapping every word I utter into their laptops.  Neither group interjects with anything useful.  The odd snore or snigger from the back is especially unhelpful.  I’m not sure whether either group comes out of the session particularly advantaged.

But would I want to change their attitudes?  No.  Because life is about a gradual dawning of opportunity and motivation.  And when you’re 18, you need to give that process time.  Being forced, whether by ambitious parents, short sighted careers advisers or pressure from an international financial megalith into a lifetime vocational commitment is a short cut to a mid-life crisis.

When making choices about recruitment, I will take the candidate with real world diverse experience over the tunnel vision squint of the person that went straight from school to university to work.   Subsidising school leavers through university, post-graduate qualification and training may work for KPMG, but accountancy is about numbers.  Law is about people.