My practice focuses on the law of contract – that is, the law relating to agreements between people and organisations. Quite often, I am called upon to advise on the pros and cons of an agreement, or to help tighten it up. But more frequently I deal with situations where people/organisations have agreed to do something but then disagree, or even fall out with each other. In such circumstances, there are a number of options open to you – negotiation, arbitration, mediation, bringing your case to court.
My experience has centred on private clients and small/medium-sized enterprises. I’ve acted for numerous firms including building contractors, private security businesses, website developers and high street retailers, as well as private individuals with day jobs.
I also deal with queries and problems arising out of the law of trusts, which sometimes overlap with the law of contract. The law of trusts is complex, but in essence it allows the court to recognise that there can be two different owners of property. This means that the true or ‘beneficial’ owner can be found by the court, even if another person has a documentation stating that he is the owner. So trusts are a useful tool for working out who really owns what.
Like a lot of modern lawyers I have been trained in an environment of horror at the expense and risks of going to court, and I devote a lot of time to helping my clients understand these problems, even if that means I advise them to go no further, or in some other way tell them something they might not want to hear. I like to think in the long-run my clients will thank me for this.
Having said that, experience has taught me that it is almost always sensible to take legal advice early on – at the stage when you sense there might be a problem, rather than when the problem has emerged or, having emerged, has mutated into something much bigger. I understand that nobody wants to spend money on lawyers. What we’re selling is not desirable, like a designer watch or a handbag. But almost without exception, the longer you leave it to take advice the more likely it is that costs increase unnecessarily, tempers often fray equally unnecessarily and your chances of a happy or at least satisfactory outcome are diminished.
In this vein, I learned a long time ago always to keep a cool head in a dispute: it makes one’s assessment more rational and, if you find out you’re in the wrong, it’s easier to admit it and move on. So my approach is patient, obsessive, candid, pragmatic.
Therefore: please be prepared to take advice early, and listen even to unwelcome advice. You can always get a second opinion.
Finally, cost. I always try to give up front estimates of likely overall costs. These are estimates because quite often one does not know how long a case will go on for. In other cases, for a one-off instruction, I almost always quote fixed fees, so the work is done no matter how long it ends up taking
B -v- I was a dispute between two companies over the precise meaning of a contract they had agreed. I represented B. At stake was up to £60,000. I was involved early on in the dispute and was able to assist in reaching a resolution preventing the case going to court, and both parties were able to walk away, with my client winning £40,000.
M -v- S was a claim brought by M alleging that S owed it £35,000 in unpaid fees. I acted for S after proceedings were brought in court and was able to settle the case such that MP had to pay its own costs, which by that stage amounted to about £25,000 on top of the £35,000 it claimed in damages, in return for which S paid it a mere £6,000.
TD was a private client, fortunately not involved in a dispute, but needing an agreement with his local authority which would enable him to conduct his business. TD asked me to draft that agreement so as to protect him but also to recognise the terms he had negotiated with the local authority.
P -v- J were in a relationship and then split up. P claimed a share of J’s home, on the basis that they had verbally agreed this and she had made sufficient financial contribution to the home to justify the court finding that she did indeed have that share. In short, she claimed that a ‘constructive trust’ existed in her favour. I represented J, who was understandably very concerned that he would have to sell his home and give share of the proceeds to J. Fortunately, after a lengthy hearing, I was able to persuade the court that no such trust existed and J kept his home
I was Called to the Bar in 2004 after a career in the City. Like most barristers, I am obsessive about my work. Specifically, I tend to ‘chew’ on cases until I have drilled down to what I consider to be the fundamentals, which are often not obvious at first glance. When not working, I am usually to be found trying, with various degrees of success, to entertain my eight year-old, or wandering around ancient monuments trying to make sense of a guidebook. I’m quite an accomplished home cook, and mostly agree with Mary Berry in the matter of Bolognese ragout: there’s nothing new-fangled about cream and white wine!
What my clients say
“We had a contractual dispute with a former trading partner and with tens of thousands at stake we sought advice from Stephen through the public access scheme. He had previously advised us on a long-standing commercial problem and we were impressed with Stephen’s attentive, approachable manner. Stephen quickly understood our new situation. His advice was pragmatic and commercial, always with an eye to the bottom line. We would highly recommend Stephen as his expert guidance led directly to this matter being successfully and speedily concluded to everyone’s satisfaction." Caron Ward on behalf of Bastion Security UK Ltd.
Professional & academic
I read History at King’s College London between 1991 and 1994, then took an MSc. In political science from the LSE in 1995. After some years working in the City, I retrained for the Bar between 2002 and 2004, when I was ‘Called’ by the Middle Temple. I was during that time awarded a Middle Temple Queen Mother scholarship and won the Letchmere essay prize. I was a pupil barrister at 2, Paper Buildings in the Temple and now practice from Goldsmith Chambers, also in the Temple.