Career choice: Working in-house as a team leader
Name: Katrina Robinson MBE
Level of PQE: 19 years
Current position and immediate former position: Head of legal services for Viridian Housing, before that legal services manager
Why did you go into the law in the first place?
My sister and I used to share a flat in south London and we were being harassed by our landlord. As a result, we had to obtain legal advice, and I'm sorry to say that it wasn't terribly good. I then started to read about housing law myself and became completely hooked, so a career in law seemed a natural step to take.
What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?
In private practice in London as a housing law solicitor acting for tenants of social landlords.
What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?
Because secure housing is a right for everyone. Whilst I enjoyed acting for tenants, I prefer working for a social landlord as I feel I can make real difference for tenants.
For example, myself and the team deal with a lot of anti-social behaviour litigation which means relief for neighbours who have been putting up with aggressive and criminal behaviour for a long time. I'm rather passionate about creating secure and friendly communities for my client's residents.
I also set up the Tenancy Fraud Forum, which I chair, to enable social landlords to work collaboratively to end tenancy fraud and ensure social properties go to those in most need.
What steps did you take to make that move a reality (include details of resources that you found particularly helpful)?
Specialising in landlord and tenant law and volunteering in a law centre for a number of years.
How easy or difficult did you find the move?
I found it remarkably easy to switch from acting for tenants to acting for a social landlord. The law is the same, of course, and I feel I can help many more people now, instead of just my former tenant clients.
What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?
Mainly knowing the subject of landlord and tenant law so well and a willingness to think outside of the box for solutions. I also think one of the key factors is that I am very approachable. I work with 800 people and some of the housing officers find some solicitors to be unapproachable and do not use lay language enough.
How did you find the transition after you made the move?
Very straightforward. Initially I was the sole in-house solicitor and I have now built the team up to eight of us.
What do you most enjoy about your current role?
My client allows me to think of new ideas and put those in place without having to get prior approval. I also enjoy assisting my client's residents by combatting anti-social behaviour and tenancy fraud. Because of the work I do in tenancy fraud, I was recognised in the New Year's Honours list with an MBE, which I’m still surprised about!
What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?
I am always in a period of change as social landlords tend to form mergers with each other relatively frequently. For change to be effective, there is a need to understand the entirety of your client's business - only then can you provide a first class legal service. In terms of doing things differently, I would have branched out earlier to be able to provide other legal services to my client - for example, employment law.
What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?
- Make yourself known in your field by speaking at conferences and doing pro-bono work
- Be innovative in your work
- Only change your career to something you are truly passionate about or it won't succeed
- If I'm allowed a fourth tip, it's to have good humour; there's little success with little laughter