A Day in the Life of a Dispute Resolution Lawyer
Richard Mackichan-Burke joined us in March 2019. We put him under the spotlight to find out what it means to be a dispute resolution lawyer.
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
I like problem solving, which is one of the reasons I originally worked in IT. However, over time I came to realise I enjoyed interacting with my clients more than I enjoyed the programming. So I decided to move into a career where I would be solving problems face-to-face with people.
Take us through an average day in the office
One of the things I like about the job is that no two days are the same. These days almost everything is done via email as opposed to post, which also means your day can be a lot harder to plan – you never know what is going to drop into your inbox, so the “To Do” list is constantly evolving as the day goes on.
That said, a day invariably starts the same way – a run into work, a shower, a mug of coffee and going through the emails that have come in overnight. Some will only require a short, quickfire responses, meaning I can respond straight away. Some need longer to consider, so get slotted into the To Do list. We also get a steady string of inquiries from potential new clients, so next I’ll make contact with them to see what we can do to assist. Whilst we use email a lot, I still do a reasonable number of face-to-face meetings, especially when taking initial instructions (often I’ll do this on a fixed fee basis covering that meeting and a subsequent letter of advice setting out the clients’ options. The client can then decide how/if they wish to take things further). Where possible I like to do those meeting late morning so as to leave the afternoon clear to get stuck into the bigger tasks I have.
Sometimes, especially with land issues, there’s no substitute for carrying out a site visit. So on occasion my afternoons will involve my pulling on the wellies and heading off to see a client.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to keep a matter out of Court. We use specialist barristers for this, so my afternoon may involve putting together a brief for them, preparing bundles of documents for Court or actually attending a trial. Alternatively, occasionally I get enquiries into more esoteric areas of law, so I may devote some time to researching that.
It’s not always possible, but I try to leave the office roughly on time so as I can be back in time to help the kids with their homework and get them to bed.
What would your top piece of advice be for anyone facing a potential dispute?
People often put off seeking advice at the start of a dispute because of the cost of doing so, and because they want to resolve it themselves. In fact, from experience that’s exactly when you should see a solicitor, and doing so could save huge sums in the long run. “The good side of the fence always points away from the owners land”, “they’ve not used the land for years so they’ve given up ownership of it”, “I’ve scaled up from the Land Registry plan, and the boundary should be 4 inches further over”; It’s not uncommon for a party to firmly believed something to be the case and to have based their position on that, only to later discover that in fact they were wrong. By that time relations are soured and often both sides are totally entrenched.
Knowing the legal position early on gives you a much better chance to resolve the issue quickly and cheaply.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Obviously you try not to get personally involved in cases, but when you work closely with people for any length of time that’s inevitable to a degree. I enjoy building that rapport and supporting the clients through what can be a very stressful time; I also derive a lot of pleasure explaining what can be arcane and confusing concepts to people in language they can understand. But the most rewarding part is always getting the client what they want. Be it via correspondence, at a mediation or in Court, the moment where the knot finally gives and we can see the solution is hugely satisfying.
What have you been most proud of in your career so far
Again, whilst you try not to get personally involved, the cases where my client has prevailed against a bully.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?
A journalist and/or writer.