Amal Kaur, who is dual-qualified to practise North and South of the border, joined Shakespeare Martineau to establish a Scottish real estate practice for the firm in 2020. She tells The Brief about the variety of work involved in commercial property, how the firm plans to grow the practice, and her role as one of Shakespeare Martineau’s “people champions”.
The pandemic took all of us by surprise, upending routines and demolishing long-held plans. For Amal Kaur, real estate partner at Shakespeare Martineau, it came with the added complications of a baby, a toddler and a recent move to a new city to join a new firm.
About a fortnight before the March 2020 lockdown began, Kaur, who is dual-qualified to practise Scottish and English law, moved from London to her husband’s hometown of Birmingham to establish a Scottish real-estate practice at Shakespeare Martineau. She was, at the time, part-way through her maternity leave with her second child, which she completed before starting work establishing the new practice in June 2020, doing so in a new world of home-working and ubiquitous Zoom calls.
Prior to joining Shakespeare Martineau Kaur had spent her career post-qualification with Maclay Murray & Spens, the Top 100 firm that in 2017 merged with Dentons to become the world’s largest law firm by number of lawyers. A graduate of Glasgow University, she had joined the firm’s Glasgow office in 2006, moving to its London office and dual qualifying to practise South of the border in the early years of the last decade.
Never a standard day
Kaur has worked in commercial property throughout her career, enjoying the wide variety of work. “There is never a standard day,” she explains.
“One day you’re purchasing shopping centres, the next you could be doing some standard lease work, and the following day you could be doing banking and financing work. I also really enjoy working on the real estate element of corporate transactions, which is fast-paced with tight deadlines.”
She added to this variety following her move to London, by developing a specialism in the renewables sector. In her new practice at Shakespeare Martineau she has been able to continue working in this field, including acting for utility companies, and businesses in the renewable sector, on top of more conventional real estate work.
The Scottish practice
Shakespeare Martineau, which employs more than 400 lawyers, has its largest hub in Birmingham. It now has ten hubs in total – one of the most recent being its Glasgow hub, established last year.
The firm employed Kaur to set up its Scottish real estate practice to serve, in the first instance, existing clients who wanted to be able to use the same firm for business on both sides of the border. Kaur was made aware of the role by a recruitment consultant while she was on maternity leave with her second child and, following a series of meetings, was impressed by the warmth of the firm’s culture, as well the commercial case for the new practice, and decided it was a “massive opportunity” that was too good to miss.
Although many aspects of legal advice can be delivered from anywhere, Scottish property transactions can only be carried out by firms that are registered to practise in Scotland, so one of Kaur’s first tasks was set up a limited liability partnership based in Glasgow (Shakespeare Martineau (Glasgow) LLP). This hub provides a location for meetings and will, over time, potentially act as a hub for colleagues in Scotland.
Although Kaur is based in Birmingham, her assistant lives North of the border and the firm is agnostic when it comes to the location of future recruits to the team. “We are essentially looking for people who have the right skills and are a good fit for our expanding firm, but they can be based anywhere in the UK.”
Kaur is currently recruiting for another senior member of the Scottish team.
“We appreciate that Scottish-qualified solicitors can pop up anywhere. It will be their personal choice as to whether they then attend any of our hubs that are dotted up and down the country.”
At the moment Kaur deals with most client matters herself, aided by her Scottish assistant and other members of Shakespeare Martineau’s real estate team, a number of whom are currently undergoing dual qualification. There are also plans to expand the firm’s Scottish operation into other areas beyond commercial property because there is a wealth of finance and energy work to capitalise on.
Although the practice was set up in response to recognised client demand, Kaur says the firm has actually been surprised by how quickly it has established traction. “We have built on existing client relationships where there was an immediate need for Scottish real estate work and are now working with other clients whom we had never even thought would require the service.”
“As soon as they had heard we had set up a Glasgow LLP, one of our clients actually transferred all their equivalent Scottish work over to us after our first meeting about it. It says a lot about how happy clients are, in general, with the work Shakespeare Martineau does for them that they are now happy to bring over all their Scottish work to us.”
The Scottish and English/Welsh legal systems have always been independent from each other, hence the need for a dedicated Scottish practice, but, of course, the nations might in future become rather more separate. Kaur does not see the possibility of Scottish independence, though, as something that would cause major problems for the firm.
She says, “Regardless of what happens there would always be a requirement from clients for advice on Scottish transactions, although it would remain to be seen whether it might lead to more regulatory requirements. However, I don’t think there would be too much of a difference because you already have to be a Scottish-qualified lawyer operating under Scottish practice to carry out various restricted operations, which include real estate.”
Strength in diversity
As well as being head of its Scottish real estate practice, Kaur is one of Shakespeare Martineau’s “People Champions”. In this role she is helping to shape a workplace culture that is more diverse and focused on individuals, not just in terms of material things like remote working but also “promoting people and their individualities, supporting people who are different, bringing out their individual qualities and appreciating people for who they are”.
Diversity of intake is one thing, and Shakespeare Martineau has various initiatives, including visiting schools in deprived areas, to try to improve social mobility by encouraging students from non-traditional backgrounds to consider the law. But what happens when a person joins a firm, and the benefits that their background and experiences can bring is seen as an asset, and something to be embraced.
Kaur says, “I think the legal sector is starting to realise that the individual qualities of people from different backgrounds, with different perspectives, actually enhance firms, and what we can provide to clients. I think that is a really important point to take forward: people are people and you can harness an appreciation of their similarities and differences to bring out the best in them.
“Perhaps it’s partly a result of lockdown, and Zoom or Teams meetings giving colleagues an insight into each-others’ personal lives, but it’s almost as though you don’t need to hide yourself anymore. Firms are beginning to appreciate the benefit of their people feeling they can bring their whole selves to work.”
Connect with Amal Kaur on LinkedIn