Avi Barr, Partner, Property Department at Lawrence Stephens Solicitors
13 March 2017
Interlink Recruitment meets Avi Barr and talks to him about his new Partner role in the Property department of Lawrence Stephens Solicitors. As well as learning about his own career experiences, we find out more about innovation, collaborative working and the future for property lawyers.
Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Avi. Can you start by talking us through your own legal career and the path you took to get where you are today?
A: I started at Manchester University and knew back then I always wanted to be a lawyer. From an early age, I had a clear career path mapped out and knew it involved working in property. Knowing what I wanted and being very determined, I only made a few applications for a training contract, doing my research and focusing on those firms that would work best for me. I got my training contract with Wacks Caller but a few months before qualification I was transferred by TUPE to Pannone Solicitors. My experience there wetted my appetite for working at a bigger, high value firm and on qualification, I joined Cobbetts, with one of the top tier property teams in Manchester, as an Assistant Solicitor in their Real Estate department.
I stayed at Cobbetts for two and a half years where I covered the basics, but the credit crunch kicked in and property work became thin on the ground. It was then that I made an instinctive decision to get in touch with Read, Roper and Read – not only did I get on well with the Managing Partner of the firm, but in 2009 and while the financial crisis was still being felt, I developed a concept involving lease work. The ‘Leases for Landlords’ scheme, an interactive document portal and case management system to improve services for commercial property landlords was something conventional firms weren’t offering but allowed an opportunity to target work in the property sector by offering something different.. In hindsight, I took a bit of a risk, especially when I had my family to support. I pitched the concept to Read, Roper and Read agreeing to roll it out on a trial basis, taking no salary. Fortunately, the gamble paid off, the concept developed quickly and a steady amount of property work started coming in, by which time the firm’s confidence in me grew. In 2010 I became a Partner, I took on my first external staff member and the department grew organically thereafter, operating with six lawyers and support staff, turning over at present just under £1million per year.
My decision to move firms at this point in my career was purely a personal one. Things were going very well at Read, Roper and Read, I had a lot of London-based clients but with that came a lot of travelling and spending time away from my wife and children. In January 2016, we made a family decision to move to London and I have recently joined Lawrence Stephens as the fourth Partner in their Property team.
Q: You became a Partner quite soon in your career, what was it that set you apart and gave you the drive to achieve what you did so soon?
A: I have always been very entrepreneurial, thanks to having a vision of where I want to be and what I want to do. And being quite creative, embracing technology, has helped me stand out as being more than just a ‘rainmaker’ in my legal career. I’ve always brought in enough work for my team but it was my ability to innovate that brought Read, Roper and Read a competitive edge, thus attracting more clients. It’s also what has brought me to Lawrence Stephens – they are a young, progressive partnership and when I first met with them, there was an immediate connection.
My lawyer style is quite different too, I look for collaborative team involvement all the way through. There’s no one person, one file - there’s complete transparency across the team and while it’s sometimes a challenge to maintain that, it’s crucial to do, to keep valuable team members. My move to Lawrence Stephens saw me bring two members of my team from Manchester, keeping the nucleus of the team together. Craig Mullen who is joining as an Associate has worked with me since 2010 and Rachel Coulthard was Read, Roper and Read’s first ever trainee solicitor back in 2014, qualifying last year. The timing was right for them both to join me at Lawrence Stephens in London, ensuring continuity as a team and enabling them to both progress their own legal careers.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers for their success with business development?
A: I would always advise younger lawyers, for the first three to four years especially, it’s fundamental to focus on being a good lawyer. The legal skills are vital. Master those and then you need to consider differentiation. There are hundreds of law firms across London alone offering services to clients. That’s when it comes down to, what can you do better? Do you have a different proposition? Take the time to be as a good a lawyer as you can be, before tackling the next challenge.
Q: In a blog feature back in 2014, you talked about fewer people qualifying into property law – is this still the case?
A: At qualification level, the number of property lawyers coming through is increasing. The struggle is at 3-6PQE and the ‘lost generation’ who couldn’t find training contracts or positions through the credit crunch. Since the market recovery there are fewer training contracts available; a lot of firms are nervous about training contracts too, investing in all that training and then losing staff at NQ level. If you consider residential property, the demand for conveyancers is far outstripping the supply.
Q: If we consider Brexit, is it affecting further uncertainty in the property market and could it influence the number of lawyers looking to qualify into property law?
A: There is uncertainty in the property market for numerous reasons, not just Brexit but it need not have a negative effect.
From the point of view of investors, landlords and tenants, the business rates regime in this country is punitive on small businesses and has damaged the high street.
Brexit is a national issue – but at the moment the property market outside of London does not seem to be visibly affected. Even within London I had a recent example of a client considering relocation out of the UK in light of Brexit, but decided in the end to stay in London because of the overall stability and trade advantages this country offers.
On the residential side, the tax changes to be implemented in 2017 where interest payments will no longer be deductible from income tax, will affect investor decisions.
There is also strong feeling that interest rates will rise; I was speaking recently with a Russian economist who was very confident that rates will rise, which will impact on the property market for the better. Foreign investors are already considering interest rate rises and therefore taking a more cautious approach particularly in Central London. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that uncertainty creates opportunity, especially when you consider property finance at the moment is incredibly cheap.
Q: What does the future hold for you at Lawrence Stephens Solicitors? Are you looking forward to this new challenge?
A: I am very excited to have moved to London, it’s a different dynamic from having the level of autonomy I had until now. Lawrence Stevens is a really solid firm; a medium-sized, specialist commercial firm with a solid client base and the opportunity to grow. I know I can make a difference and have a positive impact on their bottom line.
I’m keen to continue innovating too and here at Lawrence Stephens, I have a bigger platform and more appropriate audience to work with. The future will see me looking for more opportunity to use technologies, making sure the firm is at the forefront of innovation.
And I must say I have been very blessed, not just now but throughout my career, to have an incredibly supportive family. My wife has a background in law, having been a Legal Secretary for a number of years and she understand the pressures of being a lawyer. Such support is always invaluable, and even more so when you start a new career challenge.
Q: Do you have any final advice for young lawyers to succeed in property law?
A: My advice to junior lawyers is simple; be passionate, love what you do and take risks. I took a big risk when I started at Read, Roper and Read but it’s sometimes important to do that and back yourself, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Learn from experiences and mistakes, and you will thrive.
Being passionate as a lawyer makes a huge difference – I love my clients and colleagues and the work I do even though the hours can often be very demanding; you have to love it or it becomes a grind and you’ll never succeed.
When starting out and choosing firms, remember it’s not always about location. Think about what you want and focus on the culture of the firm, the team – where will you best fit? Before accepting a role, take some time to understand the firm’s culture, check their background online and do your research. Ask for a tour of the firm before accepting any offers and remember it’s a two-way process in interviews, come prepared and be prepared to ask questions.
Being a successful lawyer is non-stop so you need to be prepared to put in the ‘hard yards’ and try to set yourself apart.
Thank you, Avi for taking the time to talk with us and for sharing your insights and experiences. We wish you and your team every success at Lawrence Stephens Solicitors and look forward to finding about your future achievements.
'Interlink meets' is an opportunity for us to share career insights with like-minded legal professionals. We are fortunate enough to get to talk to many faces in the world of law, through Interlink meets we hope to inspire others with their legal futures.