Karl Brown: My legal life

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Karl Brown

This blog was originally posted by the Law Society Gazette. UWE Bristol Law School alum and Faculty of Business and Law advisory board member, Karl Brown, speaks about his career to date.

At school my best and favourite subjects were English and history. I quickly realised that I would like a career which would involve analysing documents and using communication skills. In the sixth form I got a short work experience placement at a local law firm. This confirmed to me that I would like to study law at university and then go on to a legal career.

I found it very difficult to get a training contract. I did not secure one until four years after I had finished my degree, following more than 100 applications. I eventually obtained a contract with Porter Dodson in Somerset and my training was in its Taunton office. My seats were commercial property, litigation (a combination of civil and family litigation), residential conveyancing and private client.  

Many of the titles I had to review as part of my commercial property seat were large bundles of unregistered title documents or complicated titles related to rural properties. Despite this steep learning curve, I really enjoyed it and my confidence increased rapidly. My seat in residential conveyancing helped me fully understand each step involved in the property buying/selling process and also confirmed to me that I would ultimately want to specialise in property law.

I am a passionate believer in diversity, inclusion and social mobility. Working every day with the Bristol property industry I saw the fantastic opportunities available for anyone who would like a challenging and rewarding career, but I was concerned that not all young people in Bristol were aware of these opportunities. To address this I set up and launched the Bristol Property Inclusion Charter. This involves firms, companies and organisations working in the Bristol property industry signing up to pledges which aim to make the industry more diverse and inclusive. It is the UK’s first city property inclusion charter. I have been heartened by the enthusiastic response and to date have secured more than 15 signatories, including social housing associations, corporate building and architectural firms, estate agents and the University of the West of England. 

I saw the fantastic opportunities in the Bristol property industry available for anyone who would like a challenging and rewarding career, but I was concerned that not all young people in Bristol were aware of them

The Bristol Junior Chamber (BJC) is a business group for people under the age of 40. I joined the BJC in 2008 and from 2009 spent four years as its chair of education and skills (which included coordinating mock interviews at local schools), one year as vice-president and then in 2014 I became its first-ever black president. I had three main objectives: (a) organising speakers and events to help members become future leaders; (b) promoting products made or industries located in Bristol (for example, I organised a tour for BJC members of Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol, which has been the location for some major films and TV series); and (c) promoting the importance of social mobility to the business community in Bristol. Among other things, I arranged for the then deputy chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Baroness Gillian Shephard, to give a speech on social mobility at an inaugural BJC President’s Lecture.

In 2015 I was invited by the mayor of Bristol to sit on the new Bristol Learning City Partnership Board. Bristol was the first learning city in England. The aim of the board was to promote the idea that learning is for everyone regardless of age or background and should not stop when a person concludes their formal school/university education. 

It is clear that the legal sector has recognised the importance of diversity and social mobility. This can be seen when you look at firm websites and when you read articles from law firm leaders. I do think, however, that it is also recognised that law firms have not only to confirm that they have a diversity/social mobility agenda, but also demonstrate results. I am sure that if law firms do adopt procedures such as name-blind CVs and contextual recruitment, more firms will, in time, be able to demonstrate results from their social mobility objectives.  

Karl Brown, Senior Associate, Clarke Willmott. Image: Law Society Gazette.