With over ten years’ experience, Alison Ogley specialises in advising clients in all areas of planning and environment law and has acted on a variety of major development projects including housing, minerals, waste, retail and renewable energy.
With a master’s in environmental law, Alison is now distinguished as a leading environmental lawyer in Legal 500 and is recognised within Walker Morris for her entrepreneurial and collegiate approach.
Alison is, unusually, dual qualified as both a barrister and a lawyer. She has built a unique practice since her return to Walker Morris – after three years practising as a barrister at Kings Chambers – which encompasses advocacy in the High Courts, Planning Inquiries and, when required, the criminal courts.
Alison is one of the first female solicitor advocates to appear in the Supreme Court and has had many landmark achievements in her career but faced several challenges in the early years of her career from funding herself through university, post graduate qualifications and tenaciously pursuing work experience and a training contract before securing qualification into the planning and environment team at Walker Morris as a solicitor in 2007.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m from a small mining village in Yorkshire and I moved a lot as a child before going to a comprehensive and sixth form college near Oldham. Despite having no legal connections, I decided I wanted to study law at the University of Leeds, but I felt out of my depth and somewhat out of place – my background was very different to everyone else’s on the course.
I volunteered at a law centre to gain experience and met more solicitors from working-class backgrounds, which was inspiring. I secured a training contract at another firm before applying to Walker Morris to transfer my contract and qualify into their Planning & Environment team, which worked out brilliantly as I love the area I work in now, and the firm also funded my master’s in environmental law and helped me develop my career.
After eight years, I left Walker Morris to work as a barrister where I did some really interesting advocacy work and built up a High Court practice, which I took back to Walker Morris when I returned three years later as a Partner in the Planning & Environment team. I’ve had quite an unusual career journey to say the least and, since returning to Walker Morris, I have built a unique practice. I love my current role as Partner which involves providing combined advocacy and litigation services in High Court cases for clients.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No – I have a passion for what I do but never thought I’d end up here as my family had no connections to the legal world; an environment where, traditionally, the connected and ‘elite’ tend to succeed.
When asked this question, I always recall watching the film ‘A Few Good Men’ when I was a kid and being really inspired by it – I wanted to fight for truth and justice! It was set in the navy and initially I thought that was the only way I could afford to get a degree and qualify as a solicitor.
Qualifying as a trainee solicitor with Walker Morris was a turning point for me as the team has always taken on advocacy work so, from that perspective, it was the perfect fit as it turned out that is the bit that gets me out of bed in the morning. It wasn’t until I joined the team at Walker Morris that I fully realised my passion lies in advocacy work and that’s the path I continued to pursue.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Yes, many! In my second year of university I was struggling with my lack of connections and couldn’t get a training contract – I nearly gave it all up if I am honest. Prior to securing my training contract, I interviewed with an American law firm based in London and was devastated when they didn’t give me the job. Essentially, my face didn’t fit – they thought I wasn’t cut out to be a commercial lawyer, so that stands out as a challenge at the beginning of my career.
After that I was extremely fortunate – the partnership at Walker Morris is unique and much more socially diverse than many firms, which is important to me – to feel my face does fit. The firm has some real characters in it, and differences are celebrated – it’s what makes us successful and sets us out as real entrepreneurs in our respective fields.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
The obvious one that springs to mind is making it into the Supreme Court as an advocate but making it into the legal profession as a working-class woman was a huge achievement in itself. It’s something I don’t often think about but, when I look back, there were so many times I nearly gave up, so the fact I persevered and made it to where I am today makes me proud.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Pure tenacity – an ability to get back up and keep going if something knocked me back. I believe if you fight long and hard enough for something, you’ll find a way.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Given my background and the initial lack of connection to the legal world, I feel passionately about mentoring and I have had some brilliant support from a lot of fantastic mentors at Walker Morris, as well as guiding people myself later in my career.
I get a real kick out of seeing juniors shine and have, in particular, supported the progression of one of our Senior Associates who is from a working-class background. I also provide mentoring for our directors and junior people within the wider firm; supporting them to develop their business and move up in their career. It’s easy to forget the things that you didn’t know when you were in a more junior position, and I try to plug the gap where I can.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I would ensure all workplaces implement training to understand the scale of the problem, challenge the unconscious biases held by many and get the conversation started. There needs to be a very open dialogue about how to find solutions – there’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all answer, but transparency and understanding are essential.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
You are good enough – stop comparing yourself and have faith in yourself. When you come from a slightly different background you can’t help but compare yourself – particularly in an industry like law – but it’s not helpful!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next big challenge will be leading the team in due course. I am excited about the future and I want to lead my team over the next 20 years and create a legacy to inspire women from working-class backgrounds to follow their ambitions.
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