Construction solicitor, David Brown, came onboard in March. His work typically involves providing dispute resolution and contract law advice to building contractors, developers, sub-contractors, architects, surveyors and individual homeowners.
Find out more: David Brown to launch Construction team
Russell Brinkhurst joined our Corporate and Commercial team in March, having worked for a number of years at another local law firm.
Find out more: New Partner in the Corporate Commercial team
Oliver Bussell joined our Commercial Property team in June and brought with him almost 20 years’ experience in planning and related areas of public law, including working in-house at Kent County Council.
Find out more: Oliver Bussell joins Commercial Property team
You all joined TeamCB in 2023. How’s it going?
Russell: “It’s going really well. I’ve been particularly impressed by the team spirit here, the collaborative nature and how everyone works together. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the calibre of the clients we work with and the quality of our work; the firm is truly punching above its weight.”
Oliver: “That completely echoes my thoughts. CooperBurnett has the feel of a boutique-style firm, which I really like.”
David: “I’ve also been impressed by the quality of work, as well as the professionalism of the lawyers here and the support staff. It’s also incredibly friendly.”
You are all experienced lawyers, so it must have been a fairly big decision to make the move at this point in your careers?
David: “For me, it didn’t feel like a big decision. I’d worked with John Spence many years ago and we’ve kept in touch. I also know his PA Ann Lithgow and, more recently, I’ve been working with Joseph Oates. Due to these existing relationships, I felt comfortable with my choice to move here.”
Oliver: “I think lawyers are cautious by nature, so my decision-making took a little more time. I wasn’t as aware of CooperBurnett as David and Russell, so I was a bit anxious about making a move. There was quite a lot of talking before I joined but I’m very glad I have.”
Russell: “Like Oliver, it took a lot of thinking about moving on but, once I’d made the decision, I felt pretty confident about it. I’d worked on the other side of transactions with Victoria Sampson for many years, so knew I’d enjoy working with her. After I’d met her and Joseph Oates to discuss it more formally, I left with a very good feeling. So much so, that I didn’t bother looking at other opportunities that might have been out there.”
What aspects of life at CooperBurnett have surprised you?
Oliver: “I’ve been a bit taken aback by the quality of our clients. I also really appreciate the attitude of pragmatism and commonsense – there’s a lack of politics and decisions are made without fuss.”
Russell: “Since I’ve been here, I’ve been particularly impressed by how well CooperBurnett is run. There’s a real focus on developing the firm and that’s highlighted by the calibre of recruitment over the past few months. CooperBurnett’s support of charity is also admirable, as well as its commitment to developing the next generation of lawyers.”
David: “I’d agree that the charity support here is impressive. Other firms say they support charity but it’s just a tick box exercise. Here, people genuinely get onboard with it.”
David and Oliver – you have both brought new areas of expertise to CooperBurnett in the form of construction and planning. Has having those additional areas onboard strengthened the offering at CooperBurnett?
David: “CooperBurnett didn’t have a huge amount of construction clients previously and I’m working on building that up. There are also overlaps with other practice areas here, such as Commercial Property. I sometimes work with the Commercial Property team, when construction procurement arises.”
Oliver: “From my point of view, it’s really useful having somebody with construction expertise in the building. If I’m working on something in Commercial Property, which has a construction element, then it’s brilliant to be able to reach out to David. In terms of my planning work, that’s mostly s106 agreements and appeal work, but enforcement issues come up too including obtaining certificates of lawfulness. Straight Commercial Property transactions always have an element of planning involved with them - and enquiries come in from all the other departments in the firm, too.”
Russell – CooperBurnett already has a strong corporate and commercial presence. Are you enjoying being part of that?
Russell: “Joining CooperBurnett has reinvigorated my passion for the work we do and I don’t, for one second, regret my decision to join the team. To be honest, it’s hard not to feel positive with such an enthusiastic team leader as Victoria! The energy and that shared enthusiasm is contagious. We are very much a team!”
We talk a lot about the TeamCB culture. Have you experienced that?
Russell: “Here at CooperBurnett, it's not about what individuals achieve, the hours they put in and what they bill – it’s about promoting a team ethos and everyone contributes to that. Honestly, it’s so refreshing and liberating. I feel I’m allowed time for business development, for example, without having to account for those hours. It’s about trust at the end of the day and the focus here is very much on the end game. I have been impressed by how agile the firm is, particularly with decision making, and I think that’s helped by its size and the fact there is a single office. Everyone here is respected and that really came over at our recent – and my first – Christmas lunch. It was a great event, really relaxed and friendly with everyone made to feel part of it. I think that’s the key thing about CooperBurnett, at its heart it is a friendly firm, yet it balances that with really punching above its weight in its quality of work.”
Oliver: “I really agree with Russell about the team ethos - which I think is helped by the fact that we’re all based in the same building, so naturally have greater crossover than working in a multi-office firm.”
David: “What comes across is the focus on people and how friendly the firm is. While I appreciate a lot of team members have been here a while, it also feels like quite a young firm too in terms of its demographic.”
Do you feel that trainees and junior lawyers are well supported here at CooperBurnett?
Russell: “I was the training partner at my previous firm and I recognise the importance of development. Here in the corporate team, it can be easier to get more junior lawyers involved at the outset of matters, as transactions might have a team of three or four working on it and they have the opportunity to get involved with all aspects of that deal. I believe it’s important to give feedback and for that to be constructive, so there’s a real opportunity to learn. I see Victoria committing a lot of time to junior lawyers and that feeds down to the rest of us. Looking back to when I was a junior lawyer, I still remember those more senior colleagues who gave me the time and were also approachable. That said, we are all still learning and all appreciate somebody who offers us the time to talk something through with them. There are no egos here and you are never judged.”
David: “As Russell says, devoting time is absolutely key – and the culture here allows us to do that. Also, giving junior lawyers and trainees responsibility too is important. Within our team we have a paralegal and I can see how she is being encouraged with her career. When I was newly qualified myself, my senior partner was quite distant and in my early days, there was very much a ‘them and us’ approach. Here at CooperBurnett, the culture is much more open.”
Oliver: “We’ve got a newly-qualified solicitor in Commercial Property and if there’s a planning element to one of our cases, we sit down and talk through the issues. And, yes, giving meaningful feedback is important and giving praise where it is due is actively encouraged. I think that culture is still slightly unusual in many firms – whatever their marketing literature might say!”
While there is very much a CooperBurnett culture, do you also feel you are supported to be the lawyer you want to be within the structure?
David: “I am absolutely allowed to be the lawyer I want to be here and it helps that I am tasked with building what is a new department.”
Oliver: “Legal services are basically about managing risk – but that can result in excessive levels of quite formulaic compliance internally. I feel that it can actually make people complacent and I’m really glad to be working in an environment where risk is handled with real care.”
Russell: “When I joined, it was made clear that it was a blank canvas and if I wanted, for example, to develop a particular practice area, I would be supported to do that. I think you can get as much or as little support as you want here.”
Work can be pressured sometimes. What do you do within the working day to reset?
Oliver: “If I’m working from home, then I’ll go for a walk or a cycle ride. Any number of times I’ll go out with something nagging away at me - and that time away from my desk will give a totally different perspective – which is just invaluable. And school runs have their own pressures but they also give a very different perspective on the world of work!”
Russell: “Whether I’m in the office or working from home, I go for a walk every single day. Tunbridge Well is very pleasant to wander round and we’ve got some lovely green spaces very near the office. Half an hour outside nearly always gives me a different perspective on things. With some fresh air, I’ve occasionally managed to draft a clause in my head which I’d been struggling with previously at my desk.”
David and Russell – I know you’ve both been out networking a fair bit. Has this been a good way of cementing connections and making new ones?
David: “I’ve been attending the same construction networking which I have done for a while, but I’ve also been to a Sevenoaks Chamber event. In fact, that gave me the opportunity to reconnect with some old contacts from when I first worked in Tunbridge Wells, which has been useful.”
Russell: “I’ve been to some Sevenoaks Chamber events too, which have been good. I also joined Crowe on its clay pigeon shooting day and was part of the winning team! There’s a lot of networking in Tunbridge Wells and it’s a case of picking the right events. But, overall, I think networking has changed and is more informal and inclusive. The days of ‘stuffy’ lunch clubs and dinners are long gone.”
Oliver – you took part in the Walk Tonbridge Marathon. Was it good to spend time with colleagues from outside your team?
Oliver: “Absolutely. We do end up working closely with quite a small number of people during the working day and just saying ‘hello’ to others we pass in the corridor. This was an all day event, so I had some really great one-to-one conversations with colleagues. Also, I think walking itself leads to some really good chats and, on a charity challenge, you’ve all got a common objective.”
David: “I took part in the Tunbridge Wells Legal Walk during the summer and that was also a really good way of meeting and chatting to colleagues.”
Russell: “I really like how CooperBurnett prioritises charity challenges. Other firms simply pay lip service to CSR, whereas TeamCB is genuinely enthusiastic about it and you can’t fake that.”
Finally, how is 2024 looking for you in terms of work?
David: “I’m possibly not as busy as I was a little while ago, but I’m also working in the Property Litigation team and providing support in there at the moment.”
Oliver: “Usually the property world goes to sleep in December, but this definitely wasn’t the case in 2023. It’s perhaps a little quieter on the horizon at the moment but there’s plenty going on at present both in Planning and in Commercial Property.”
Russell: “There are a lot of transactions in progress at the moment, but some are a bit stop and start – mostly due, I suspect, to interest rates, lending and economic uncertainty."