Helen is a specialist commercial property solicitor with over 14 years’ experience. She advises both businesses and individual clients on a full spectrum of commercial property law issues ranging from one-off transactions to year-round property portfolio management.
Tell us a bit about your career journey to date
I chose a slightly less traditional route into the legal profession by opting for a 4 year sandwich degree with year 3 spent working as an undergraduate ‘at the coal face’ in a Top 25 law firm. This gave me first-hand experience of what it might be like to be a solicitor. It’s not like an episode of ‘Ally McBeal’ but has proved to be a hugely satisfying career choice!
Fast-forward 15 years and I was headhunted from KBL Solicitors in Bolton to set up, lead and grow HRC Law’s new commercial property department. I’m now a partner and specialist commercial property solicitor at HRC Law LLP, based off St Ann’s Square in the centre of Manchester. That was almost 2 years ago – and although it feels like it has gone in a flash, I’ve grown the department to a team of 4 – with plans afoot for further expansion.
It’s my business to advise businesses on a full spectrum of commercial property law issues ranging from one-off transactions to year-round property portfolio management. I have a particular specialism working with clients within the retail sector – counting a number of household names as clients.
What are the top three challenges you’ve faced as a leader and how have you overcome them?
1) Being a leader and not only a do-er:
As a solicitor, you are encouraged throughout your career to account for your day in six-minute increments. This leads to a mindset of fee-earning work being the best way to spend your time. As a leader, I also have to be completely focused on where that work comes from, why clients are attracted to our firm and how to keep it that way, as well as getting out there meeting potential new clients and contacts – on top of everything else which goes with running a business!
I am still totally hands-on with legal work for clients but I have also had to learn to spend time training others, mentoring, building relationships and business plans and taking time to look up from my desk and make sure the ship is still on course – and not to see that as ‘not real work’.
2) Starting from scratch:
Being invited into the partnership to build the commercial property department and its infrastructure from scratch has been a challenging and liberating experience. Surprisingly, bringing in clients wasn’t too difficult a task –The Fragrance Shop and THE Chinese Buffet followed me to HRC Law LLP from day one – hard work, marketing, reputation and recommendation did the rest!
3) Doing it all at once:
All working mums juggle a career with family life but, becoming a partner of a law firm, single-handedly managing a new department and recruiting a team whilst maintaining a busy school schedule and potty-training a two year old was particularly challenging! It has been a roller-coaster of a ride and I am absolutely thrilled that the hard work has paid off as I now have a growing, successful team and haven’t lost any children along the way!
How do you bounce back from rejection and the challenges?
You can’t win them all and it’s a hard lesson but reminding myself that nothing is personal in business helps build the mentality to get up, dust yourself down and press on to the next challenge!
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Work hard. That’s it.
Honesty and integrity go without saying but my motto is that you only get out of life what you put into it. It takes hard work to make something successful and I’m pleased to say that the HRC Law LLP team are all grafters!
Having the freedom to shape the department from day one has allowed me to build a framework and team that contrasts traditional law firm models and works much more efficiently – generating a six-figure turnover in the department’s first year and being profitable from the start. We are a close-knit team of hard-working property professionals (who happen to be ladies) and I’m pleased to be mentoring them through the early stages of their legal careers to show them that the sky (not a glass ceiling) is the limit.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Go for it. Flexibility and glass ceilings have historically been a challenge for women in the legal profession and, of course, still exist in places. That said, within firms such as ours, which are built on 21st century values and embrace flexible working, there are more options than ever before. Gone are the days when women have to choose between having a rewarding career and having a family – you really can have both.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’d say I’ve achieved a perfect work/life blend! My role at HRC Law is a mix of leading clients and leading the team and that doesn’t always fit perfectly into a traditional working day, it’s as simple as that. This can, however, work in everyone’s favour – in the same way that none of my entrepreneurial clients crowbar their working day into a 9-5 regime, this means it’s absolutely acceptable to respond to emails out-of-hours or answer a call on a weekend because, on the flip side, I can do the school run and run some errands when my workload is lighter.
How have your found the mentors and sponsors to support you in your career?
My business partners are all highly experienced and dedicated professionals and they also happen to have young families, so we share the same values and challenges and are able to support one another along our way.
We are also very lucky to be based in the centre of Manchester where there is so much on offer in terms of great quality business networking and mentoring opportunities. I’ve attended a number of events with hugely successful and influential speakers who talk passionately about their business journey and the important lessons they have learned along the way. Most businesses and entrepreneurs within them face the same challenges – we just happen to be a business operating within the legal sector.
A short piece about your business, product and services
HRC Law LLP is founded on the principles of transparency, honesty and partnership. Building and maintaining relationships is a key long and short term objective. We work hard to get to know and understand our clients’ businesses. This makes it possible for us to tailor our approach accordingly.
We know the law: We add value by applying this to our clients’ needs; always having their preferred outcome in mind. We pride ourselves on our succinct, practical commercial advice.
We are well equipped to be reactive, but prefer to be proactive making sure that our clients’ risks are minimised. We are proud to have long standing relationships with our clients, and even prouder to be considered their extended business partners.
As a commercial law firm we cover employment, corporate, commercial dispute resolution and commercial property advice for our clients who are entrepreneurial businesses on the whole. We also focus on particular sectors where we have a deep understanding of and expertise in the retail (both e-retail and bricks and mortar), day-nurseries, recruitment and healthcare sectors.
As a commercial property department, we can help with buying or selling business premises, new leases and lease management, securing a loan against business premises and pretty much anything else which you might encounter in occupying commercial premises.