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Interviews

Damian Fleming, Partner, Commercial Real Estate @ Berwin Leighton Paisner Interviews

Damian Fleming, Partner, Commercial Real Estate @ Berwin Leighton Paisner
Prime real estate…

Damian Fleming has been a partner in Berwin Leighton Paisner’s (BLP) Commercial Real Estate group since 2006. We caught up with Damian to chat about his career in real estate law and to find out more about the life of a trainee solicitor at BLP…


Why did you decide to specialise in real estate law?

Real estate lawyers tend to like the tangible nature of what they’re dealing with. If you’re buying a property, you can go along, have a look it and figure out where a right of way might be; you can’t do that if you’re working on a bond issue or a share purchase.

The people in the real estate industry also tend to be pretty straight talking; the kind of people who it’s easy to go down the pub and have a pint with. It’s an enormous generalisation, but I’ve found that people in the real estate business are very straight down the line. What you see is what you get.

What do you enjoy most about real estate law?

Dealing with legal issues and actually working my way around the nuts and bolts of a legal problem is not necessarily exclusive to real estate law, but the intellectual challenge of finding solutions for clients, such as figuring out how you’re going to mitigate the effects of an overage provision, is very enjoyable.

BLP’s Real Estate group is widely-regarded as the leading practice of its kind in the UK. What is the reason for this?

There are several reasons. Our staff  who deal with real estate enjoy it, care about it and want to make a real go of it.

At BLP, real estate is central to what we do. When I was looking to move in 2003, I wanted to be at a practice where real estate was absolutely at the heart and soul of the firm, and BLP was the obvious choice.

Is that why you moved from Slaughter and May to BLP?

One does not make a move to another firm lightly; both BLP and Slaughter and May are excellent at what they do, though they have different priorities in terms of the areas they focus on. During my time at Slaughter and May, I did a lot of good work, but I was keen to move somewhere where real estate was at the heart of the firm.

Trainees at BLP are expected to complete a seat in Real Estate as part of their training contract. Why is that?

It would be odd to want to do a training contract at BLP and not want to do a seat in real estate. It doesn’t mean you’re wedded to it, by any stretch of the imagination. Real estate is such an important part of what BLP is known for; trainees are keen to grow their expertise and experience in one of the most well respected departments in the City.

It also gives you a very good grounding for your practice, certainly in the early years of qualification. Real estate allows trainees responsibility for managing their own files and direct contact with clients and opponents. It’s part of a good learning process to take on that responsibility at an early stage, and huge numbers of our trainees absolutely thrive on it.

What kind of work are trainees given in BLP’s Real Estate practice?

It’s difficult to say that everyone will have the same experience, but we do make a concerted effort to ensure trainees have the opportunity to learn on-the-job.  I try to make sure that trainees have a chance to draft simple agreements, carry out due diligence, prepare their own correspondence and attend meetings.

An important part of the job is being able to communicate with the other side and deal with your own clients; I encourage trainees, under appropriate supervision, to get on the phone. In this day and age where electronic communication is prevalent, the art of a good phone call is something we are in danger of losing. Quite often it’s easier to hide behind an email, so I encourage junior staff to pick up the phone and establish a relationship with our clients and the other side. That’s very important.

You’re dealing with people, so you’ve got to be able to deal effectively and courteously, but robustly at times, with your opponents and your clients. From as early a stage as possible, I want junior staff working with me to feel comfortable doing more than proofreading and drafting letters.

The solo, ‘at your desk’ element is important. You’ve got to be able to do that, but you’ve got to get used to what you’ll be doing in practice once you’ve qualified. Nobody presses a magic button when you finish your two-year training contract and you’re suddenly able to fly solo and advise clients by yourself. If you haven’t had the necessary experience during your training contract, you’re starting on the back foot, and I don’t want junior staff I supervise to do that.

How much interaction do you have with trainees?

I share an office with a junior associate, but there are partners who share with trainees. The head of the work group, Richard Hopkinson-Woolley, is in a semi-open plan office with eight people, including two of the five trainees in our department.

At BLP, we share trainee supervision; I have responsibility for one trainee and see him on a daily basis, if not every other day. I monitor his workload, make sure he’s got a good mix of work and try to make sure the door is open at all times for any queries he might have.

Another partner in our team, Candice Blackwood, has regular updates with the trainees, and is responsible for their general welfare and development. She makes sure that she brings another partner from the team into their monthly meetings to identify key areas for development. It’s important that trainees learn from people who have been there and done it.

What skills do you need to be successful in the Real Estate practice of a city law firm?

You’ve got to have good communication and interpersonal skills. You also need excellent analytical skills. As a junior lawyer, you do a lot of due diligence, and so you’ve got to be able to pick out key points quickly.

As you develop your practice, you need the ability to problem solve and find solutions for clients, because that’s what you’re being paid for at the end of the day. As far as clients are concerned, quite often, the deal is already done, and as one client famously put it: “Lawyers are a necessary evil.” I think we’re more than that, but clients don’t want us getting in the way of their deals with intricate, academic points of law; they want us to facilitate the deals. We must never lose sight of that.

What is the most challenging real estate transaction you have ever worked on?

That would probably be the redevelopment of Drapers’ Gardens, right in the heart of the City. It was almost like a university question; it just had everything. It was a cradle to grave transaction, from the first acquisition by the client and the handling of a development agreement with the freehold owner, to dealing with the financing, which had its own challenges.

Lehman Brothers was involved in the financing, and I distinctly remember the conference call in the morning after Lehman had gone under. That was an interesting challenge, but we got through it. The building had been demolished, and the redevelopment had started just before the financial crash of 2007-08, so there were very challenging financial circumstances for the client.

We dealt with the joint venture of the site, the letting to a large fund management firm, and ultimately the disposal. Each element had its own challenges, including insolvency issues, interesting points of landlord and tenant law, and conveyancing issues too. However, we rose to the challenge as a team and we had a happy client at the end of it.

How often do you work with international clients?

Right now, I’m working with a German client on a UK acquisition. I’m also working with a European family trust on a large scale redevelopment. I’ve done my fair share of transactions which you perhaps might not expect of a UK property lawyer. Earlier in my career, for instance, I acted for a European utilities provider on the sale and leaseback of their operational properties.

The transaction had no aspect of English property law whatsoever, but because the client was advised that the purchaser was likely to be an Anglo-Saxon-based investor, there were certain provisions in the leases that might not have been normal in their home market, and would inevitably be asked for.

We were asked to give guidance on what would be accepted in our home market, so that the client could see that it was the norm and there were good reasons why certain things were being asked for.

It’s not the mainstay of what I do; I am fundamentally an English property lawyer, but the real estate market is becoming more global, and the need to diversify and spread risk means we are increasingly getting involved in transactions beyond our borders. The compare and contrast is always very interesting and throws up its own special challenges.

Do trainees get the opportunity to work on international transactions?

Yes. Obviously, they’re not going to be right at the heart of negotiating tripartite investment agreements, but there are definitely roles to play in coordinating due diligence, liaising with foreign lawyers and contacting clients. Coordinating due diligence will be right at the heart of what I’d expect trainees to do, which involves pulling reports together and making sure we’ve got consistency when four different jurisdictions are involved, for instance. There are definitely roles for good quality trainees to play.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring solicitors, what would it be?

The law can be incredibly challenging, but so too are the rewards. At BLP we offer trainees an intellectually stimulating environment, increased levels of responsibility and job satisfaction for work done well. Our trainees have on-the-job training, are properly supervised and well looked after, in return we expect them to do their very best for the firm and our clients.

Remember, you are learning on-the-job the whole time. There’s a very good reason why somebody might ask you to go away and proofread a document. It’s not because they necessarily want you to improve your proofreading skills, but by proofreading the document you will get a feel for how the document holds together and what the key issues are.  

Those who come into the law, especially at a law firm like BLP, are very driven and hardworking people. You’ve got to expect that, and like any job, work hard to progress, but it’s worth it in the long run.

To find out more about training contracts at Berwin Leighton Paisner, please check out: www.blplaw.com/trainee

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 Using Your Internship to Get into Investment Banking

Using Your Internship to Get into Investment Banking

You’ve probably heard that work experience is the best way forward when it comes to securing that golden graduate job. But how do you go about making the most of your internships to get into the highly competitive investment banking industry? Raisah, who is now a credit trading analyst at international bank J.P. Morgan has is covered…

Interviews

Gavin Thomas, Travel Writer

Gavin Thomas, Travel Writer

After a two-year round-the-world trip, Gavin Thomas decided to move away from music journalism and started working as a travel editor with Rough Guides. After several years of editing, he was given the opportunity to author the first edition of the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka. Since becoming a freelance travel journalist in 2005, he has written a range of guidebooks about Dubai, Oman, Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra. We chatted to Gavin about becoming a travel writer, avoiding cliché and the time he was shot in the stomach by armed bandits in Mexico…

Interviews

Finance Apprenticeships: A Smith & Williamson Insight

Finance Apprenticeships: A Smith & Williamson Insight

Finance apprenticeships are increasingly on the up as an alternative to university for top school leavers. But what does an apprenticeship actually involve? Josh and Katie came from slightly different routes (A-levels and a Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Business) and have now taken up tax and audit apprenticeships with financial services firm Smith & Williamson. They let us in on what their programmes involve…

Interviews

Diversity in Banking: An Insight

Diversity in Banking: An Insight

You’ll often here that nowadays banks implement diversity policies and programmes in all elements of their business. But what are they actually doing? Vinay Kapoor, UK Diversity & Inclusion Manager at BNP Paribas told us about how things are changing within the industry and what diversity and inclusion means at the Bank…

Interviews

Devan Nathwani, Actuarial Intern and Graduate at Aon

Devan Nathwani, Actuarial Intern and Graduate at Aon

Devan was curious about what an actuarial career may hold as a mathematics student, but wasn’t 100% sure what the industry actually entailed. A couple of years later, he has completed a summer internship in actuarial consulting within pensions with top actuarial firm Aon, and has now moved into their graduate scheme. So what did he gain from his summer internship?

Interviews

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Private & Business Clients

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Private & Business Clients

Private and business clients is a highly desired career path focus in the banking and finance world. Roya is gaining experience in this area with Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany – one of the world’s biggest financial hubs. She told us about the opportunities this is opening up.

Interviews

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Graduate Global Technology Strategy Analyst

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Graduate Global Technology Strategy Analyst

Leo is a Global Technology Strategy Analyst in Group Technology & Operations in London. His team pioneers technologies and re-engineers business processes to deliver innovation and world-class client service. From moving trillions of Euros through a business every day to integrating two organizations after a major acquisition, they face the technological challenges caused by growth, market change and constant competition…

Interviews

Dave Benson Phillips, Children’s Television Presenter

Dave Benson Phillips, Children’s Television Presenter

If you watched children’s television in the 90s, you will probably recognise the trademark smile of Dave Benson Phillips. Yep, that’s right! He’s the charming chap who presented Playdays, Get Your Own Back and Wake Up in the Wild Room. We caught up with Dave to chat about his life as a children’s television presenter, the 'World’s Largest Gunge Fight', and the internet death hoax that threatened to ruin his career…

Interviews

Confessions of a Recruitment Consultant

Confessions of a Recruitment Consultant

Prepare to be shocked, appalled and amused! We interviewed a graduate recruitment consultant to find out what really happens to your CV when you apply for a job through a recruitment agency. If you want an honest insight into the recruitment process, you’re in the right place. The person we interviewed has asked to remain anonymous. Get ready to find out why!

Interviews

Chibundu Onuzo, Student Novelist

Chibundu Onuzo, Student Novelist

Chibundu Onuzo started writing her debut novel when she was just 17 years old. Having secured a two-book deal with Faber at the age of 20, whilst studying history at King’s College London, she went on to receive widespread critical acclaim for The Spider King’s Daughter, which was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Dylan Thomas Prize. We chatted to Chibundu about tackling the writing process, getting published, and balancing academic work with a literary career…

Interviews

Catching Up with Browne Jacobson’s New Training Principal

Catching Up with Browne Jacobson’s New Training Principal

Mark Hughes has recently been appointed training principal at Browne Jacobson. Mark, a partner in Browne Jacobson’s corporate team specialises in all aspects of corporate advice, including acquisitions and disposals and has been with the firm since 1999. AllAboutCareers.com caught up with Mark, finding out about changes to Browne Jacobson’s trainee recruitment programme…

Interviews

Building a Brand: The World’s Best Tasting Popcorn

Building a Brand: The World’s Best Tasting Popcorn

Fresh from his recent appearance on Dragons’ Den, Martin McLaughlin (a.k.a. Ben ‘Jamaican Me Crazy’ McLaughlin) chatted to us about starting his own popcorn company, Love Da Popcorn, with two close friends. With a background in advertising and a tidy little bit of investment from Peter Jones, Love Da Popcorn’s products are likely to be making your tonsils tingle with happiness very, very soon…

Interviews

Are apprenticeships the best route into the accounting industry?

Are apprenticeships the best route into the accounting industry?

Mike Day is the Head of the Accounting Academy Partnership, an apprenticeship scheme which helps young people to become qualified accounting technicians in just 14 months. We chatted to Mike about the increasing importance of apprenticeships in the accounting industry, especially now the government has announced its scheme to create 360,000 apprenticeships in the UK this financial year…

Interviews

An Interview with the Attorney General

An Interview with the Attorney General

Appointed as the Attorney General by Prime Minister David Cameron in May, 2010, Dominic Grieve QC MP is the Chief Legal Adviser to the Crown. A champion of student pro bono projects, he also chairs the Attorney General’s Pro Bono Committee. We were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to the Attorney General about the importance of student pro bono projects, his own personal experiences of pro bono work, and the possible impact that the proposed legal aid cuts will have on pro bono initiatives in the UK…

Interviews

An Interview with an Ambassador

An Interview with an Ambassador

His Excellency Ric Todd has recently been appointed Her Majesty’s Governor to Turks and Caicos Islands. Previously he was the 56th British Ambassador to Poland. We were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Ric about his career so far, his advice for people considering a career as a British Ambassador, the challenge of learning new languages and meeting Pope John Paul II...

Interviews

An Insider’s Guide to City Vacation Schemes

An Insider’s Guide to City Vacation Schemes

Sussing out the law firm you want to work for is a tricky old business! It can be difficult to really pinpoint the best way to do it. Of course, one the best ways is to get yourself onto a vacation scheme with a firm. But what will you get out of your one or two weeks in the office? Andrew Pollock is now a trainee with top City firm King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin after finding the perfect fit through a vacation scheme! Here’s what he got up to…

Interviews

An Employer’s Perspective on Modern Apprenticeships

An Employer’s Perspective on Modern Apprenticeships

Employers Jessica Addis and James Vaughan-Smith needed to hire additional staff recently and took a chance on apprentice Chloe Hutchinson-Brown. Having had a positive experience of utilising an apprenticeship scheme, Jessica and James spoke to AllAboutCareers.com about how hiring an apprentice worked for their company and should be a serious consideration for all school leavers.

Interviews

Alice Coates, Teach First Maths Ambassador

Alice Coates, Teach First Maths Ambassador

Alice Coates gained a multitude of different experiences working with young people through her studies before she took on the challenge of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme as a maths teacher in the Yorkshire and The Humber area. A couple of years later, she’s now a Lower School Assistant Head in Sheffield! She chatted to us about her experiences on the programme and what teaching means to her…

Interviews

Adam Gamsa, Trainee Solicitor @ Field Fisher Waterhouse

Adam Gamsa, Trainee Solicitor @ Field Fisher Waterhouse

Having completed a DPhil in Physics at the University of Oxford, Adam Gamsa decided to move away from academia and join Field Fisher Waterhouse as a trainee solicitor. We caught up with Adam to chat about his first nine months as a trainee, his vacation scheme and his enthusiasm for intellectual property law…

Interviews

A Vacation Scheme with International Law Firm Taylor Wessing

A Vacation Scheme with International Law Firm Taylor Wessing

Clara Garfield completed a vacation scheme at international firm, Taylor Wessing in 2011. Throughout the scheme, Clara felt well supported by the firm and commends the ethos of the firm and their hiring policy – Taylor Wessing look for people who are a good fit for the firm’s culture, not just those with top grades.

Interviews

A Life in Social Care

A Life in Social Care

Many of the people who pursue a career in social care are initially drawn by the simple motivation of ‘helping people’ or ‘giving something back’. Behind such simplicity is a complicated range of values. For example, a recognition of the inherent value of every person and their right to be considered equal with every other citizen.

Interviews

A Different Kind of Accountant

A Different Kind of Accountant

When you hear the word Mazuma, you might think of those irritating adverts which invite you to exchange your mobile phone for cash. But wait! There is another company with the same name. Started by two friends, Mazuma provides expert accountancy services to small businesses and independent contractors. We had a chat with Sophie Hughes about starting up her own business and what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry…

Interviews

A Day in the Life of a Trainee Actuarial Consultant

A Day in the Life of a Trainee Actuarial Consultant

After graduating from the University of Warwick with a degree in Maths, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics (MORSE), Tom Williams joined Aon as a trainee actuarial consultant. We caught up with him to find out more about the professional life of an actuary… 

Interviews

Why I Chose My Sponsored Degree in Engineering

Why I Chose My Sponsored Degree in Engineering

Sponsored Degree Programmes can be ideal for those looking for a career change too. Lee Dennis was initially an engineer with the Royal Navy, and took his career in a new direction into the power system industry through the National Grid Engineer Training Programme…

Interviews