A day in my life? Well, this should put an end to any misconceptions that a lawyer’s lot is a glamorous one.
My day starts with a 15-minute period of peace and quiet contemplation even. Then it’s off to battle with two kids who need to be woken and somehow cajoled into getting dressed and ready for school. We are then a familiar sight to neighbours as we fly down the hill. If only there was an Olympic medal for making the 7.35am school bus!
I’m in the office in London Bridge by 8.20am. Within an hour the rest of the gang is hard at work, processing licence applications, negotiating leases and investigating titles.
I head up the Property and Licensing department at Winckworth Sherwood. It was all an accident really. I went to Newcastle University to study economics, but quickly changed to law. I qualified as a solicitor in 1989, working in Sheffield, and moved to London in 1992. I joined Winckworth Sherwood in 1994 and in 1996 became a partner.
My team is made up of two partners, three solicitors and five licensing assistants. We handle acquisitions, disposals and other property stuff for petrol forecourt clients, restaurateurs, retailers and telecoms operators. A mixed bag.
But it is the licensing that sets us apart. The journey started in 1994 following a call from a client asking "Can you apply for a licence for a petrol station?" I thought not, but agreed to look into it. I advised that if we could establish that the petrol station was not primarily used as a garage, we might be able to secure a licence. That call changed my career. We were successful in our first application. It made the front pages of the national press and I went on to represent Elf, Texaco, BP, Snax 24, MRH, HKS and many more, including single-site operators. I have probably handled in the region of 1,000 new licence applications for petrol forecourt stores. What has struck me is the number of colourful characters in the petrol forecourt business; genuine entrepreneurs, working hard in a difficult sector, people who live and breathe the industry. It’s rubbed off.
My day is varied and will depend on whether I have a hearing. I could be anywhere from Sunderland to Plymouth, Haverfordwest to Ipswich. In London the hearings tend to be in the evening, so I get to do a day’s work and then spend the evening at a town hall. It’s not glamorous but it is fun. I share the hearings with my colleague, Sabrina Cader. We fight over (sorry, discuss) who will attend which hearing depending on the nature of the application, the objections and, of course, Sabrina’s social diary.
I enjoy the advocacy. The hearings are far less formal than under the old licensing regime. We appear before Licensing Committees made up of councillors. Previously we were in the Magistrates’ Court. Contested applications will normally take about two hours so it can be a day out if we have to travel.
We don’t have hearings every day. Most of the time I will be in the office, negotiating applications for clients (most of our licences are achieved through negotiation), dealing with queries from colleagues, meeting clients and reviewing property reports to be sent to clients who are acquiring new premises. We frequently meet with police licensing officers to resolve any issues that may have arisen. More often than not, further action can be avoided.
I am also responsible for the firm’s website and often get called into internal meetings as this tends to be a moveable feast. I am really proud of our new site with the webcam home page showing a view from our office. Take a look at www.wslaw.co.uk. I try to be home by about 7pm. This is only possible thanks to BlackBerry and remote access to our working systems. How times have changed. When I started work, my secretary had a typewriter and would curse me if I dared to amend a letter. Now, I can be tucked up in bed, answering your emails and, of course, tweeting (follow @WSPropLicensing).