Starting out in Real Estate: Construction Lawyer - Boodle Hatfield

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21 Sep 2023

Starting out in Real Estate: Construction Lawyer

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Sarah Rock View profile
4 min read

In EG's most recent Autumn Edition, their 'Starting out in Real Estate' segment profiles a range of real estate professionals working in different roles and sectors and at different stages of their career. Construction Partner, Sarah Rock, discusses her journey into property and sets out the skillsets needed, her day to day and what she loves about the industry. Visit www.eg.co.uk to read the full segment or click here.

My route into construction law is a bit unusual!

After completing my A Levels I took a year out, before starting a job at an electrical contracting firm. The company saw potential in me and gave me more responsibility, including providing job allocations to the engineers. But it quickly became apparent that I had no idea what I was talking about, so I asked to be trained as an electrician. I began studying in my spare time. However, I was terrible with practically everything on site and this wasn't the route for me. I returned to my desk and discovered computer aided design, so I again studied in my spare time and learnt CAD, alongside gaining additional qualifications in maths, engineering and computing.

Following a management buy-out, I again considered my career. My childhood dream was to become a lawyer, so I decided to give it a go. I applied to several universities, but needed to prove that I could write. So I went back to school again and did two A Levels in one year: English literature and law. It was full-on, but I loved having the time to read and study.

I got two As and secured a place at the University of Nottingham to read law. I loved my degree, made a lot of friends and learnt so much. I soaked up everything I could from milk rounds and law fairs and was fortunate enough to be offered a training contract by Olswang.

I have worked subsequently for a number of City law firms. I got a feel for construction law and fell back in love with the industry. I have worked on a range of projects, including the biggest railway project in the UK, a multi-national pharmaceutical company's global R&D facility in Cambridge and a Premier League football club's £100m training ground. I have found working on projects like these fascinating from both a legal and commercial perspective. I enjoy being part of a team that puts a deal together.

I’m now a partner at Boodle Hatfield, where I work on a wide range of exciting projects that enable me to leverage my skills. Day to day, I advise clients on all aspects of construction - from a client wanting to get a new home designed and constructed, to big institutions wanting to implement the latest construction technology, to a restaurant having a dispute with their contractor over what was included in their original deal. No two days are the same – ideas and designs change, as does the law and technology such as BIM and digital twins which I'm heavily involved in. The continual change excites me and I still thrive on knowing that I don’t know what I am going to wake up to tomorrow.

Outside my day job I am a director of Freehold – a 1,000+ membership organisation that provides a network for property professionals who identify as LGBTQ+. I love helping to organise the monthly events, hosted by property developers, agents, law firms and consultants, providing a safe space for members to network, mingle and build their business contacts.

Suited to…

There is no “one size fits all”. We embrace the diversity that our partners and staff bring with them. That said, there are some traits you tend to see among successful lawyers:

  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills – client management and relationship building are key.
  • Analytical and technically able – the work can be very technical. You often need to review large amounts of information, consider complex areas of law and pick out key points to distil to others.
  • Team player – you will be part of a team delivering a service to a client.
  • Commerciality – understanding your client’s business and how your advice impacts their commercial objectives will help you progress.
  • A strong interest in the law.

Qualifications needed 

Most law firms welcome training contract applications from law and non-law undergraduates – both of which will need to complete further legal studies and exams. If you come from a non-law background you are advised to complete a PGDL, which is a law conversion course. To be admitted as a solicitor, you also need to pass legal exams called the SQE. Most firms offering a training contract will sponsor you to complete these and will secure you a place and funding on a preparation course.

Not everyone enters the legal profession via a training contract. Paralegal roles are available in many firms and some choose to gain legal experience via this route before competing their SQE. Others choose to go down the legal executive pathway and become admitted via CILEx rather than the SRA.

Some firms also offer legal apprenticeships to school leavers.

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