In issue 2 of Inside Residential earlier this year, we interviewed our head of team, James Liffen. Now we hear from Sonal Thakrar, another partner in the team. Sonal has been at the firm for over 10 years and specialises in high value, complex property sales, purchases and refinancing. She acts for individual and institutional investors, as well as lenders.
What led you to practice residential property law?
During my training contract in a small, five-partner firm, I was exposed to various disciplines, including litigation, probate, wills, family law, and a bit of employment law but not property. I was intrigued by the transactional nature of property work, the need to think outside the box, and the opportunity to find solutions to complex problems. So, once I'd finished my training, I asked to start working on property transactions, and that's how I fell into it.
Why did you come to Mishcon de Reya?
A few years after I had finished training, I moved to Charles Russell, becoming a partner there in 2008. It was Mishcon which approached me in around 2009. I wasn't quite ready to make a move then due to personal circumstances. But Mishcon's reputation and its dynamic approach to law were appealing to me. I really loved the inclusive nature of the firm – a real mix of people from every background. I finally made the move in 2010.
What is your most memorable transaction?
One transaction that stands out was a complex deal involving a government. Originally, I was only acting for the bank which was financing the transaction, but I ended up acting for the borrower as well during that transaction, notwithstanding that the borrower was separately represented. The deal involved multiple parties, several offshore jurisdictions and intricate legal and commercial issues. It was rather like being the conductor of an orchestra, bringing together all the different parties to play in harmony. The experience was challenging but incredibly rewarding, and it led to further opportunities, acting exclusively for the borrower as new client of the firm.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The buzz and the variety. No transaction is ever the same. Each one involves different personalities and unique challenges. I enjoy the excitement of negotiating around those obstacles, being kept on my toes with interesting problems, and find vanilla transactions almost dull in comparison.
Are there any changes you would like to see in the conveyancing process?
The conveyancing process could certainly benefit from more efficiency. There are many changes currently on the horizon, but the uptake has been slow. We need to embrace technology and streamline processes to better serve our clients. Lawyers can be slow to change – I know how hard I find it sometimes!
Do you see overseas clients continuing to purchase in London?
Absolutely. Despite rising stamp duties and other legislative changes, London remains a hot spot for overseas investors. It is still seen as safe place to buy. It's where they want to buy. The word ‘London’ is sexy. London property is a conversation starter round those dinner tables where status matters.
What are your expectations for the residential property market this year?
The market is slow at the moment for various reasons including low stock and an upcoming election. However, larger deals are still happening – they operate in their own bubble. I think it would take a lot to affect them. The market is uncertain, and volume has dropped off, but I do believe that London will continue to attract investors. It's a buyer's market, with buyers negotiating lower prices.
What do you think would surprise your clients most to know about you?
Not only that I wanted to become a lawyer since I was 9 years old (after watching an episode of LA Law) but that I have a whole well-being, spiritual side of my life which I live side by side, hand in hand with my career for nearly two decades now. I regularly teach and practice yoga and I’m also a sound therapist, playing the crystal alchemy bowls as a healing modality. I stepped down from management and head of group in 2019 to allow more time and space to grow in my well-being and spiritual life. Balance. I believe in integrating all aspects of my life and not just being one or the other; living from a place of authenticity in everything that I am and do!