Katie Saunders

Katie Saunders

Partner at Trowers & Hamlins

Trowers’ Katie Saunders shares her insight into the trends that are driving the construction market, what makes the firm special and much more

Katie, can you please tell us a bit about your career and current role at Trowers & Hamlins?

I am fortunate that I have worked at Trowers for all my career, having undertaken a training contract with the firm in London and the Middle East. I became a partner in our Projects and Construction team in 2005 and moved to our Manchester office in 2007 and I now head up our Projects and Construction practice in the North West. I have always been part of a growing and dynamic team. When I qualified into the team in London after time spent working in our Abu Dhabi and Dubai offices on infrastructure and energy projects, we were a small team of two partners and three solicitors. Now, across our national Projects and Construction practice, we have 13 partners and 23 solicitors and we are growing our team in the North West.

My work has evolved with the changing needs of our clients and in particular the transformation of the construction sector and the use of pre-manufactured components on all types of projects and the digitalisation of the industry. That means our non–contentious practice needs to anticipate drafting suitable construction contracts, understand the use of modern methods of construction and enable our clients to be agile in their negotiations.

We don’t take ourselves too seriously and ensure that we all support each other in and out of work.

What kinds of clients do you work with?

Our clients range from contractors and developers to local and central government bodies. Our clients build offices, schools, hospitals and prisons and develop housing. We benefit from being able to advise both the private sector and public sector and some of our most interesting and rewarding projects and regeneration schemes where the public and private sector have worked in a joint venture to develop much-needed homes. We also advise our clients on contentious construction law matters which means we can provide a full service offering to them and support them at all stages of a project.

What is the most rewarding or most high-profile project that you’ve been involved in?

I have always enjoyed playing a role in the construction sector and being able to see the results of our contract negotiations rise out of the ground. Whilst it is rewarding to see new offices and hotels being built perhaps more satisfying has been the work I was involved in for the Ministry of Housing (DCLG as it was then) when Trowers was appointed as National Change Agent for Housing. We worked with groups of housing providers regenerating and refurbishing homes as part of the governments decent home programme. This meant that all social housing tenants had bathrooms and kitchens and heating which were fit for purpose and decent to live in. Much of our work for our housing clients continues to be supporting them to provide decent homes for people who need them.

Where do you want/ expect the construction practice to be in five years’ time?

We are a growing and dynamic practice and I hope that in five years' time we will have more partners and solicitors in our Manchester team and across our national practice. I would like to continue to grow both our contentious practice (headed up by partner Tom Holroyd) and our non-contentious work and continue to be part of the growth and regeneration of the major cities in the North West.

Where do you think the growth areas will be?

We are working very closely with our clients on the use of modern methods of construction, particularly in new housing. I think that over the next five years we will see a complete shift from traditional construction methods on-site to all major components for a new home being manufactured off-site and transported to site where installation can happen quickly and efficiently and with zero defects. This will be supported by a digital chain of data about the products used which will enable better maintenance. Alongside this, we will be seeing a growth of sustainable construction materials and more emphasis on the quality of building to ensure that where we live and work is a healthy and safe environment. We are already seeing this coming forward in proposed government legislation on Building a Safer Future as a result of the Grenfell tragedy.

On the flip side, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the construction sector?

Unfortunately, we are facing a skills shortage in the construction sector which has been written about widely but is proving difficult to tackle since jobs in construction are not promoted at school and are regarded as less attractive than jobs in other industries. We are working with a team at Class of Your Own who teaches a course for 14 to18-year-olds called Design Engineer Construct. It is being taught in schools across the country and is preparing children for careers in the construction sector. My team have supported the course by teaching a construction law module which has been piloted by a school in Salford; we hope to roll this out to other schools.

In your view, what sets Trowers & Hamlins apart?

We don’t take ourselves too seriously and ensure that we all support each other in and out of work.

Finally, what’s the best thing about your job?

My team and my clients and that every day is different and still fun.