We speak to Matt Walker – Real Estate Partner at Gowling WLG
Matt, can you please tell us a bit about your career and current role at Gowling?
I'm a partner in the real estate department at Gowling having been made up to the partnership in May this year. I trained at Gowling (Wragge & Co as we were when I started in 2004), qualified into our real estate department and have been here - as part of our commercial development and investment team - ever since. I always wanted to be a real estate lawyer as I love the tangible nature of the projects we get involved in; we - to a small extent - help change places, hopefully for the better.
What kinds of clients do you work with and where?
My clients are a mix of developers and investors and these are both national and international. Our spread of work is nationwide, so we don't have a "patch" so to speak. My international clients tend to be focussed on investment and my national clients are a mix of developers and investors – some being smaller local developers whilst others such as St Modwen are large national players, with lots of my clients being London based. I also do some work in the student accommodation sector, working for GCP Student Living PLC and I've helped them grow their portfolio significantly over the last few years.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the real estate sector?
Brexit would of course be the easy answer, but I'll try to avoid that. I think technology is a challenge for real estate – it's changing the way we do so many things and it's been clear to see the impact technology has had on the way we shop, which has of course impacted the retail sector in particular. I think we'll see technology making even more of an impact over the coming years – whether it's the way buildings are used or goods are delivered, there's no doubt that technology is disrupting the way we do things.
And on the flip side what are the opportunities?
The obvious opportunity that has arisen recently is in the industrial/logistics space which is buoyant given the growth of e-commerce and the importance of last mile logistics; I'm sure there's more to come for this sector as the prevalence of e-commerce grows. That said, if you were brave, it could be a good time to dabble in retail property as prices have undoubtedly been hit by e-commerce, so could offer good value if you're prepared to take a bit more risk on.
What has been the most rewarding - or most high profile - deal that you’ve been involved in?
There have been a few which I'm particularly proud of – 30 Broadwick Street in Soho, which we acquired for an international investor for c. £190 million and exchanged contracts in just over 10 working days just before Christmas last year; it was a great team effort to do it so quickly at that time of year. Another favourite is a student accommodation led mixed-use scheme in Brighton, which was the most complex scheme I've ever worked on and so it was a great deal to have been involved with from an intellectual perspective.
In your view, what sets Gowling apart from other law firms?
There are two things. Firstly our culture. Ever since I've been here, there's always been something special about the culture of the firm; it's my job as a partner to make sure we never lose that as it's fundamental. Secondly (and excuse me for bias here!) but I think we have a fantastic real estate department and so as a real estate lawyer I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather practise real estate.
Where would you like the firm’s real estate department to be in five years’ time?
We're already up there amongst the best and so there's no doubt in my mind that I want us to be the best – a team known for dealing with the biggest and most complex transactions; we have a large team and a huge skill set across a range of disciplines which I think positions us uniquely in the market to deal with those types of jobs. Sometimes, I don't think people realise the strength and depth of our real estate department.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
One of the things I learnt at an early stage of my career was to look at all the different people you work with and to identify traits that you do and don't like so that you can either use or avoid them (the traits not the people!) during your career – I think that gives you the widest possible pool of skills and influences to choose from and means you become more well-rounded as a lawyer.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you do and why?
As a real estate lawyer, there's no doubt in my mind that I'd have been a property developer – I love the fact that they can change places and in some cases create whole new places and destinations.
What five words best sum you up as a lawyer?
Commercial; hard-working; energetic; compassionate and loyal.
Finally, how do you like to switch off at the end of the day?
I love spending time with my children and doing family stuff with them; I'm a keen golfer so I do like to try and squeeze a round in at the weekends when family time allows!