Karl Brown, is a Partner at Clarke Willmott. He has also been a Social Mobility Ambassador for The Law Society since June 2016 and is the Chairperson of Bristol Property Inclusion Commission.
You have had 17 successful years in law and have now achieved partner status, congratulations – how did you start out?
I found breaking into the legal profession very difficult. I ended up making over 100 training contract applications before I was successful in obtaining a training contract. I did my training contract with Porter Dodson in Taunton and on qualifying spent two years with Stokes Partners Solicitors in Crewkerne before joining Clarke Willmott in September 2005. During my training contract I did a seat in commercial property and a seat in residential conveyancing and found that I really enjoyed property law work which was why I decided to specialise in commercial property following qualification.
Is there something you wish you had known/skill/support you wish you had when you started out?
When I was having difficulty in obtaining a training contract I was fortunate to be introduced (by my barber) to a mentor who like myself was a child of immigrants from the Caribbean and who at the time was a Partner in a large Bristol law firm. The person who became my mentor not only provided me with invaluable advice on how to obtain a training contract but also gave me some useful tips on what would be expected of me at the start of my legal career. I think mentors, particularly for persons like myself who when growing up had no connections with the legal profession are very important.
When you first started in law, what was surprising about it/what didn’t you expect?
I suspect like most new joiners at law firms the first big adjustment was getting used to recording my time and understanding the critical importance of this for good financial management in the firm. The benefit of this experience was that I was also able to review at an early stage in my career how efficient I was on certain matters and where efficiency could be improved.
What is the biggest challenge you came across and how did you overcome this?
The biggest challenge was earlier in my career gaining the confidence and experience to provide not just good legal advice to clients but allied to that skill advice which matched the commercial objectives of those clients. I overcame this challenge by really making a point of understanding my clients’ businesses in how they operated and what their commercial objectives are and also really getting to know the house building industry which is the industry in which my clients operate.
What have been the key decision points in your career?
The first key decision point in my career was of course to specialise in becoming a commercial property solicitor and then my next key decision point was when I decided to join the house builder team at Clarke Willmott in 2005 as I was keen to particularly specialise in acting for developers in buying and selling development land. Another key decision point was following the suggestion of a client contact I joined a local business group for persons under 40 called the Bristol Junior Chamber (“BJC”). Joining the BJC was a fantastic decision as I met other young professionals from different industries and through my positions as Chair of Education and Skills for four years, Vice President and then in 2014 President (the first black president in the then 66 year history of the BJC) I raised my profile internally at Clarke Willmott and also externally in the wider Bristol community. My BJC positions also gave me invaluable experience in developing soft skills such as public speaking and networking which undoubtedly assisted when I gained promotions at Clarke Willmott. My BJC positions also allowed me the opportunity to give back to my local communities by doing things such as organising mock interviews in local schools and giving back allows me greater purpose not just in my day job but also in my wider life. The soft skills I developed in the BJC also gave me the confidence in 2019 to launch the Bristol Property Inclusion Charter to seek to drive more diversity and inclusion in the Bristol property industry/sector.
What do you like best about your job?
I really enjoy working with my commercial clients (developers and land owners) and doing legal work on commercial deals which achieves commercial objectives for those clients. I also like the fact that my job can often involve complex transactions which helps me stay mentally agile.
What tips would you give to aspiring lawyers & those seeking to progress
My tips would be as follows:
1. Be positive and ambitious;
2. Work hard for your ambitions and goals;
3. Do not be put off if you are a first in your family to break into a profession or into law but actually take pride in being a first and see it as a great challenge;
4. Do thorough research before making applications whether for new jobs or internal promotions and
5. Do not be afraid to seek out mentors.
I would also flag two great quotes: George Bernard Shaw – “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they cannot find them, make them” and Michelle Obama who said “if you make it through the door, do not slam it shut but reach out to those behind you” to help them.