A Day in the Life of a Real Estate Litigation Associate

We spoke with Thomas Armstrong an associate at DWF about what it's like to work in Real Estate Litigation at an intenational firm. 

  • Last updated Oct 4, 2018 5:21:52 PM
  • Thomas Armstrong, Associate, DWF
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Image courtesy of Flikr user Images Money, 'Monopoly'

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

Eat breakfast and discuss how busy the train was! 

Joking aside, the first thing I do is check my emails alongside the task list I have written at the end of the previous day.  If anything urgent has come in overnight which needs attention immediately, this gets bumped up the list and is dealt with first thing. If not, I start work as planned – usually with the least appealing job to get it out the way.

I am much more productive early in the morning, so tend to get into the office around 7.30am-8.00am – if I can get a couple of chargeable hours on the clock before the phone starts to ring that sets me up for the unexpected queries which always come in during the day, and usually enables me to leave at a sensible time.   

How do you handle and organise / prioritise your workload?

I use various different mechanisms.  First is my diary – this has all court deadlines in it, for example witness statements, the expiry of notices or break dates.   I have a paper list of the same, so I can see at a glance what is ahead (but also because computers are not failsafe!)  

My inbox is broken down into folders - the only emails left in my main inbox are those that need to be actioned by me – everything else gets filed, and my paper task list is numbered in priority order.   I sound like a maniac, but working like this gives me clear visibility of what needs to be done by when, and what is most important or urgent.  

What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate have in litigation? How does it differ from a trainee role?

I run the majority of my own files as an associate in real estate litigation.   This means that I am responsible for the legal and strategic advice that I give clients, in addition to my own financial performance for the business.

I am responsible for the professional development of more junior colleagues when they work on my files, in particular our team's trainee and newly qualified solicitors.  I manage my team's learning & development budget, to make sure everyone has access to the training and courses they want. This is in addition to managing my team's relationship with DWF's Legal Support Centre ("LSC").  

My role and responsibilities now differ hugely from my time as a trainee almost three years ago.  As a trainee you assist fee earners with particular tasks or matters but tend not to be individually responsible for a large caseload.

Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day? 

Dispute work is very like project management.  Property-related litigation can involve an asset manager, building surveyor, valuation surveyor, experts, landlords, tenants etc.  All parties need to be carefully aligned on tactics and timescales, and need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a case, and the proposed strategy.   From a legal perspective this needs to be managed tightly and efficiently to achieve the best result for clients.

One recent internal project involved process mapping litigation instructions with DWF's business intelligence team for well-known Retail, Hospitality and Telecoms clients.  Process-driven instructions are now resourced through DWF's internal LSC (a team of specialist paralegals) which improves service delivery for those clients and keeps costs down. 

In addition to this, I manage the delivery of internal and external training to our national real estate litigation team, and have created and delivered training myself at networking event such as DWF's Asset Management Seminar Series, and at client-specific CPD events.  There is so much variety, and lots to get involved in over and above the day job.

What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis? 

The clients, for whom I do most work, operate in the Retail, Food & Hospitality sector, as well as the Technology sector, although I advise clients of all types, including investor landlords, retailers, telecoms operators, hotels, healthcare providers and a well-known chain of pubs.

For instance, I advise on all aspects of commercial property for two well-known telecoms operators across their UK-wide portfolios of masts sites, and represent one of the largest coffee shop retailers together with a big hotel chain on all types of asset management and property related issues.  I have always loved property, and every day there is something interesting and challenging on my desk!

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