In recent years, the number of people contesting a will has increased dramatically, resulting in a growing demand for talented contentious probate solicitors. While most private client solicitors (and commercial litigation lawyers) will have dabbled in contentious probate, there aren’t many who practise solely in this area. Because of this, solicitors who are specialists are highly sought after by law firms who are setting up or looking to grow contentious probate departments.
I recently worked with Nicola White, a specialist contentious probate solicitor who has just joined Thornton Jones in Wakefield as a senior associate within their newly established contentious probate department. I caught up with Nicola to learn a little more about her route into this area of the legal profession and her advice for aspiring contentious probate solicitors.
Because it’s growing, contentious probate is undoubtedly a worthwhile area to pursue for solicitors, particularly those who are 4 years post-qualified. It can be extremely rewarding as the work of a probate lawyer can make a significant difference to an individual’s personal circumstances as Nicola explains:
“I see people who through no fault of their own have been left in a very difficult financial position because of a bereavement. In some cases, financial support has simply stopped leaving them with nothing. Often they have no idea about how the law can help and the most rewarding part is when I am able to get them financial provision or keep a roof over their heads.”
At the same time, contentious probate solicitors must be empathetic as they handle very sensitive issues on behalf of their clients. Because of the nature of the matters involved, working within contentious probate can be challenging as lawyers must find a fine balance between providing a sympathetic service whilst maintaining a high level of professionalism:
“You need to be a lawyer and social worker but at the same time, you must draw a line between the two. Some clients are very emotional but you have to be able to keep it clear that whilst you are there to help with the legal matters you are not there to be a friend or shoulder to cry on. After all your clients are paying for your time. That being said you need to have the empathy to understand that your clients may be going through a very difficult time emotionally and that can affect their comprehension, their decision making and the way they communicate with you.”
Law firms are often willing to pay for solicitors with contentious probate experience. Many of those who specialise in this area or are keen to develop their expertise in contentious probate matters secure decent pay increases and compensation packages when they come to make a move.
While individuals who already specialise in contentious probate will stand out, many firms are also interested in meeting solicitors who have a particular interest in the area or who are keen to work towards an ACTAPS qualification. In many cases, law firms are willing to develop their existing private client lawyers or take on ambitious junior solicitors who are keen to specialise in contentious probate in the future.
Some of these lawyers may have been exposed to contentious probate matters in their previous roles, either within the legal profession or elsewhere. In Nicola’s case, it was her experience before pursuing a career as a solicitor which influenced her decision to specialise in contentious probate following her training contract:
“Prior to training as a solicitor, I worked in a hospice. This gave me an insight into the effects of bereavement not just emotionally or psychologically but also financially. I saw the change in some family dynamics at the end of life. At the time I had no idea that contentious probate was an area of law but whilst on my training contract, I had the opportunity to work with a Partner who was an ACTAPS member and had an interest in Contentious Probate. I was covering all areas of litigation but this was the area that interested me most as it seemed to take the issues I had seen at the hospice and find ways to resolve them.”
The state of the market
For contentious probate solicitors looking to take their next step or generalist private client solicitors considering specialising in the area, there are several leading firms with contentious probate teams across the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands.
Perhaps the largest firm with a contentious probate department outside of London is Irwin Mitchell, with teams in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. Under the national head, Paula Myers, the firm has grown its contentious probate departments across the country substantially in recent years. Other top Manchester-based firms include DWF, Shoosmiths, Mills & Reeve and Forbes who all have Legal 500 listed contentious probate teams.
Outside Manchester city centre, Myerson Solicitors, Gorvins and Slater Heelis all have dedicated departments. Further afield, Aaron & Partners, who have offices in Chester and Shrewsbury, also have a contentious probate team.
Meanwhile, in West Yorkshire, there are a number of smaller boutiques who already have, or are starting to build, a presence in this area, including Lupton Fawcett and Thornton Jones. On the other hand, in the West Midlands, firms that do contentious probate work include FBC Manby Bowdler, Irwin Mitchell, Higgs & Sons and Mills & Reeve.
As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for contentious probate solicitors at fantastic law firms across the regions. Thank you to Nicola for taking the time to speak with me and I wish her the best of luck in her new role at Thornton Jones Solicitors.
Are you looking for an exciting new opportunity within contentious probate?
At Realm, I work solely with private client lawyers (including contentious probate solicitors) across the North West, Yorkshire and West Midlands. To learn more about the private client market, please get in touch for a confidential conversation or explore our latest private client and contentious probate vacancies. Call Kelly on 03300 245 606 or email Kelly.firstname.lastname@example.org.