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The opportunities that the Northern Powerhouse will create for future lawyers

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By Kevin Bell on

Today’s law graduates will lead the delivery of huge transportation projects like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, says Bond Dickinson partner Kevin Bell


Major infrastructure projects often take a long time to come to fruition. That means planning for the future. Northern Powerhouse Rail (previously HS3, which aims to provide better rail links across Northern England) will hopefully one day be used by my children, having been delivered partly by the next generation of lawyers.

Right now, though, the project is in its infancy, with a lot still in the blueprint phase albeit with a very good regional and Government team spearheading it. Still, there are already important developments taking place, one of which is smart ticketing (effectively a ‘pay as you go’ system for the North). That could be a game-changer.

From a legal perspective, the work starts very early on in relation to projects of this scale. For a good while now, a myriad of things have been happening on HS2, particularly in relation to land acquisitions and disposals. This exciting project will generate all manner of opportunities and challenges for lawyers for many years to come.

As a junior lawyer, you aim to cut your teeth on smaller projects, or specific aspects of larger projects, with the aim of positioning yourself to one day work on the really high profile matters. All the time you are developing your own expertise and experience, which gives you a back catalogue to showcase to prospective clients. So, that might be work in relation to HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail or, who knows one day, a UK Hyperloop (a proposed mode of travel where a pod-like vehicle is propelled through a near-vacuum tube at more than airline speed). The transport sector never stops moving (no pun intended).

The pattern of incremental development has very much been the story of my career. Having joined Bond Dickinson legacy firm, Dickinson Dees, as a trainee, during one of my training contract seats I was asked to support a client on a rail franchise bid. This meant going to Leeds to work in the client’s office on a secondment for four months, which was an experience I really enjoyed. After that I was simply hooked! In a later seat I got to spend some further time in the transport team and then qualified into it. And the natural progression continued from that point until I made partner two years ago.

One of the great things about what I do is that I get to combine working for a dynamic UK law firm whilst living in the warm (well, perhaps not weather wise) and friendly North East. I am a local lad, having grown up in Sunderland and studied at Durham University, and always wanted to remain in the North East following graduation. There is wealth of excellent law firms in the region and, for me, Bond Dickinson provided me with the opportunity to work on huge, sophisticated projects that can be delivered to a standard that is equal to, if not better than, most City firms.

Further devolution to the local regions, which is likely to be a theme of the next few years under the current Government, will be interesting for multi-office national firms like Bond Dickinson. Certainly having feet on the ground and influence at a local level will, when allied to the top tier reputations of many of our practice areas, be a strong sell to clients.

Not that we are only focused on work in our backyard. The highlight of my career so far has probably been acting for Govia on its successful bid for the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern rail franchise, the largest franchise that has ever been let in the UK.

Closer to home, I also advised Nexus on the letting of the Tyne & Wear Metro light rail operating concession. It is great to see something tangible like this happen around you and for you to realise that you have played a part in making a difference to people’s daily lives.

That ability of lawyers to make a difference draws a lot of young people to the profession. It was what attracted me as a teenager when I used to work during the summer months in a local High Street law firm. At some point during the training contract application process I must have conveyed that enthusiasm. I would advise students going through that process now to try to similarly express what passion it is that drives them towards becoming a lawyer. You cannot fake this. It is obvious to interviewers when students are not being authentic. This is why the biggest cliché in the book, to ‘be yourself’, continues to be the best piece of advice I know.

Kevin Bell is a partner in Bond Dickinson’s transport team. He spoke at ‘Commercial Awareness Question Time: Northern Powerhouse Special’ on Thursday 9 February. Watch the video here.

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