We speak to Stephen McColgan - Partner in the Transactional Real Estate team at Michelmores
Stephen, can you give us a quick overview of your career to date?
I read Law at Bristol University and graduated in 1983. I joined Clarke Willmott in 1984 and worked my way through to becoming a partner in 1992. From 1996 until 2004 I was involved in the rapid growth of the firm and the establishment of its full service office in Bristol. I then joined Davies and Partners in 2004 – as a partner within its niche housebuilder practice - before taking on the challenges and opportunities of growing Michelmores' presence in Bristol. The firm's dynamism, vision and ambition proved irresistible. I arrived as a partner in the Real Estate team in October 2016, since when I have worked on some significant projects.
What made you choose a career in law?
I wanted to follow a vocational and practical path after sixth form rather than study for a purely academic degree. Studying Law presented the opportunity I was looking for. Problem solving, interacting with many different people and their skills was a strong attraction too.
My mother qualified as an architect, although back in the day (the 1950s) she hit the glass-ceiling fairly quickly once children arrived and did not spend much time in the profession. That influence, however, combined with growing up in one of the post-WWII New Towns, gave me an awareness of the built environment, its importance as an economic driver and its overwhelming impact on the well being of the people living within it.
The real estate sector has changed hugely so how does your work differ from say five to 10 years ago?
If I had been told 35 years ago that my working day would largely consist of sitting in front of two computer screens with an iPhone next to me I could never have believed it. The expectations on speed of turn around and production continue to escalate exponentially. We no longer seem to have the luxury of considered review and reflection, which sometimes is essential. Because we live in a world of infinite data that is accessible without restrictions, instant answers are expected as the norm - even where the question is entirely novel. A lot of the work we do is individual and bespoke. No two sites are identical. There are not always stock answers.
What are your predictions for the future of the market?
The pace of change will continue with new technologies such as AI having greater roles to play in the analysis of the subject matter and delivery of our work as property lawyers. Brexit scares me witless. It could yet turn out to be the biggest own goal in 350 years of generally progressive economic development in Britain. I hope my pessimism is not borne out, but I still wish it was not happening. The business of governing the nation has been on hold for two and a half years and that will have economic consequences for property and many other industries.
Where does the majority of the team’s work come from?
Existing clients, internal and external recommendations. Also, the pursuit of leads generated by getting out and meeting people who might have need of our expertise; some of which are converted into opportunities and eventually fee paying work.
What do you think will be the growth areas for the team over the next couple of years?
We are in an era where housebuilding is generally regarded by Government as "a good thing". Despite the possible Brexit storm clouds, the need to build new homes will continue to be a strong policy feature for Government of whichever political colour during the next five to 10 years. There will, however, be new generators and means of procurement for different and novel types of accommodation. There will be more BTR/PRS schemes; RP commissioned projects; specialist retirement and multi-generational living; and local/national Government is likely to become more directly involved in the creation of new homes and communities with a fresh generation of New Towns probably steered by development corporations.
What’s been your standout deal?
I began working on the Locking Castle Action Area in 1986. The project has some final minor elements to be finished off. I still get called in to assist from time to time. This was a mainly privately funded development across 900 acres of predominantly housing, but including social and economic infrastructure extending south of Weston-super-Mare. I learned my trade on that project. A close second was the significant town extension to Aylesbury at Berryfields, where my involvement began about 10 years ago. This comprised a complex land assembly for a single developer and will eventually deliver several thousands of new homes.
What else would you still like to achieve in your career?
I would still like to qualify as a Notary Public. However, that remains a vanity project as my life is too full to get down to the serious academic studies involved. I am inspired by my children progressing through the higher education system and it makes me think I should do some studying again. I want to go on working for as long as my health and enthusiasm allow me to – but be warned, both are pretty strong at the moment! I would also like to have a concentrated block of time, say six months, based in London or another major European city. The opportunity to hone fluency in another language intrigues me.
Can you sum yourself up in five words?
My ambition often exceeds resources.