We invite the leading lights of the property disputes world to tell us all about who they are and what they think. In this latest edition, we hear from Katie Bowles, Director of Legal & Compliance at National Car Parks Ltd.
It’s safe to say no two days for me are the same! As Director of Legal & Compliance at National Car Parks, my responsibilities range from the health and safety of our customers and colleagues to information security, and from overseeing the legal team to ensuring data protection is a business priority. One of the most important aspects of my role is the support we give to our frontline colleagues who work incredibly hard to make the business the best it can be. Although I am office-based, I will often spend time on site. It is incredibly important to me to see the business with a 360-degree view to understand our business in its totality.
Aside from the day to day, as a member of NCP’s Executive Committee, I am also responsible for helping to create the strategy of the business. We were very much not alone in experiencing challenges during the pandemic and we sought, as many tenants needed to, to work with our landlords to renegotiate terms. Today, we are very much focussed on the future. As many businesses will have experienced, the pandemic has changed customer behaviours and it is important that as a business we adapt to those changes in an agile and proactive manner. For example, as people have tended to commute less, we launched a three-day season ticket to cater for hybrid workers. We are also looking to increase our provision of customer-focussed parking solutions using the latest technologies, including barrier-free car parking where customers pay through our app. This effectively allows customers to have an uninterrupted, frictionless car parking experience. In addition to this, and as we see customers looking more and more towards electric vehicles, we are looking to build our EV charging offering across the UK.
Looking backwards for a moment; I originally qualified as a Commercial Real Estate lawyer at Nabarro LLP and worked supporting clients such as Land Securities and Threadneedle in their estate management, and sales and acquisitions. It was truly a great foundation for the work that I do today. A few years after qualifying I moved to IWG plc where the scope of my role changed dramatically. I was part of a very small team who reviewed leases for IWG plc’s global operations and I branched out of the property sphere by providing commercial support, really dealing with anything that came through the door! It was at this point where I started working with the Mishcon de Reya team. Given the size of our leasehold portfolio, we always had a matter – whether contentious or non-contentious – on foot and we were very privileged to receive business-appropriate, pragmatic, prompt advice that really reflected Mishcon de Reya's understanding of the business.
One of the most notable experiences during this time was my involvement in the 2018 case Rock Advertising Ltd v MWB Business Exchange Centres Ltd, the latter being one of the IWG plc group companies. The case, which made its way to the Supreme Court, centred around whether a contract could be varied orally despite it being stated in the contract that it could not. I vividly recall Lady Hale at the start of the proceeding being very excited at the prospect of considering such a fundamental point of contract law and the questioning supported this. Happily, they found in our favour!
Again, when I moved to NCP in 2018 as Head of Legal, my role changed most notably as I became responsible for a large team. I found that NCP also already worked with Mishcon de Reya and it was a great support to continue working with a team whom I already knew. During the pandemic, the team worked incredibly hard to support the business during a very difficult time as, needless to say, no one required parking facilities at the time. The team, and indeed the whole business, rallied at this point and although there was a lot of hard work and long hours involved, there was a real camaraderie and team spirit.
Leading on from this, the advice I would give to a lawyer starting out in the industry today is to keep an open mind and say yes to new opportunities – whether these are presented or they are searching for them. If I had been asked when I was starting out where I would be, over a decade down the line, it would certainly not be the same answer as where I am now, but that's most definitely for the better.