A day in the life of a legal team

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29th Sep Business

Elisabeth Williams is the in-house solicitor for Adlington Retirement Living and Jim Johnson is the in-house legal executive.

What are the main responsibilities of your role?

Elisabeth: “As a solicitor, I deal with land acquisitions, disposals of land, complicated planning agreements, conveyancing for customers purchasing our apartments, and I assist Adlington Management Services with any legal queries they have.”

Jim: “As the legal executive, I support Elisabeth to manage sales of new apartments, resales on our apartments, and transfers of utilities from the business to customers, as well as any enquiries that prospective homeowners might have.

“When I started working with Adlington Retirement Living in 2009, we launched one retirement community a year. Now, we have so many communities that I’m often working on 14 sales a month.”

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Jim: “I really enjoy visiting our retirement communities and seeing first-hand how much our homeowners love living there.

“I also get a lot out of building positive relationships with the solicitors we work with. People tend to use local solicitors and because we’re selling 50, 60 or 70 apartments at each of our communities, we develop a good working relationship with those firms.

Elisabeth: “I enjoy seeing the results. It can take years to go from land acquisition to the completion of apartments. When you’re buying land, you have conditional contracts that can last for 18 months because that’s how long the planning process can take. I enjoy seeing a piece of land being turned into a thriving retirement community.”

How did you get into the role?

Elisabeth: “I used to work for an affordable housing developer. I was there for about three years and prior to that I was in private practice in Manchester and Liverpool with two international law firms, TLT and Hill Dickinson.

“I got a phone call from Ed Gladman asking if I wanted to meet for coffee, so I did. I started three weeks later. It was a very similar role to the one that I had carried out with my previous employer, but with a different end product.”

Jim: “I joined the business in an administrative role, providing support to the project management team at Gladman Developments. I was seconded to the legal department after I finished my degree and the head of the legal team asked me if I wanted to retrain with a post grad course. I went to law school two nights a week for four years. As Adlington Retirement Living grew, my workload became very much focused on that part of the business. I enjoy dealing with lots of people and the hands on nature of the work. There’s a lot of variety in it.”

What attracted you to this role?

Elisabeth: “I was attracted to the longstanding track record of the business and its drive to grow through land acquisition. We’re currently working on three or four sites a year and in the next three years there’s an ambition to grow to the point where we have six or seven sites actively under construction.”

What are the most significant challenges in your field of work?

Jim: “Dealing with a variety of legal firms can be challenging as they’re all very different. Working in-house, if we want the answer to a question, we know that we can get that immediately. Other people aren’t in the same position. Sometimes, especially with larger conveyancing firms, they have teams that deal with certain aspects of the process, and you might struggle to get an answer quickly.

Elisabeth: “The most significant challenges I face are the delays that you incur when dealing with local authorities and planning officers. Sometimes you can be waiting weeks to get an answer to a very simple question. The impact that has on the transaction can be quite big and that’s really frustrating.”

How do you overcome those challenges?

Elizabeth: “You can’t. You just have to be patient and wait for the outcome.”

Jim: “You can only make sure that as far as you’re concerned, everything is in place. Experience means that I’ve dealt with so many people over the years that I can quickly read the room and know whether to chase somebody up or give them a bit of a push, or whether doing that will mean they’ll never answer the phone to me again. It’s a case of getting that balance right. Being as helpful as possible and offering assistance, without being over the top.

“You have to deal with each case and each person individually, whilst managing the expectations of your internal team. I liaise with the sales teams on a weekly basis, so everybody knows whether there’s been any movement in the conveyancing process and any changes to the situation. We then decide between us how we’re going to move things forward, for example, the sales team might speak to the purchaser and ask them to give their solicitor a nudge. Sometimes they’re more likely to take a call from their client.”

Elisabeth: “It’s the same principal when you’re dealing with local councils and planning officers. You have to gauge the situation and make a judgement call. If you’re chasing somebody on a daily basis, they might just put you to the bottom of the pile. Even though you want to chase, sometimes you just have to hold back. In terms of managing expectations internally, luckily all of the directors here are very savvy. They’ve been in the business for a long time, so they know how it works.”

What gives you the most satisfaction from all of this?

Elisabeth: “Seeing the end product. I recently visited our retirement community in Lytham which is due to complete towards the end of this year. We had a legal event there. I really enjoyed seeing the show apartments, the communal facilities and how good it all looks. We spoke to potential solicitors who will be acting for homeowners, who were invited to have a look around.”

Jim: “Yes, I’ve worked on some retirement communities from the time that the land was acquired all the way through to the last apartment being sold and that’s really satisfying”.

“The event that we held at Lytham is a good way to start off a good relationship with local solicitors. You can invite them to come for a visit and they can see the quality of the product”.

“I’ve met homeowners at events in the past too, answering any queries they might have before they instruct their own solicitor. On those occasions we answer questions that they wouldn’t want to instruct their solicitor to ask, but that are really important to them, such as whether they can move with their pet, which obviously they can. We get that sort of question all the time from the sales team, asking on behalf of prospective purchasers. It’s usually little points that could make a big difference to the homeowner.

“When we get good feedback from other firms of solicitors who we’ve worked with, that’s always good too.”

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned in your career so far, and how have you made use of it?

Elisabeth: “To be patient. That’s been particularly important throughout the pandemic and is still important now with planning in its current state. It shouldn’t take 18 months to two years to get planning on a development and it costs a lot of money to go through that process. It’s got worse in my lifetime as a solicitor, not better, so you have to be really patient.”

Jim: “I would say judge every situation on its merits and exercise your judgement. Every file is different, every solicitor is different, and every person is different.

“In retirement, where purchasers are making big decisions about how they’re going to live, sometimes people might need a little more time and support. They certainly don’t need an aggressive, overbearing conveyancing process and they need as much help as you can give them whilst not unnecessarily prolonging the process. It’s a fine line but I think that the fact that Adlington Retirement Living is a family owned and run business is good. The principals here are different to other developers.”

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