NAME: Liz Brownsell
YOUR BUSINESS / ORGANISATION: Birketts LLP
YOUR TITLE IN THAT BUSINESS: Senior Associate, Charities & Social Enterprise
WHEN DID THE BUSINESS LAUNCH
ELEVATOR PITCH – TELL US WHAT YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS DOES IN A NUTSHELL:
Birketts LLP is a full service, top 100 UK law firm, based in the East of England, with offices in Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich.
I joined the firm in October 2016 and am a charity law specialist. I lead on non-contentious work for charities and social enterprise clients.
My expertise covers a wide range of matters, including setting up new charities and incorporating existing charities as CIOs or charitable companies, charity mergers, corporate structuring and restructuring (particularly for start-up social enterprises), governance, commercial arrangements and contracts, trading and charity retail, fundraising (including advising on arrangements with corporate partners), matters involving the Charity Commission, identifying and releasing permanent endowment and other restricted funds, and general charity law and regulatory compliance. I also have further specific expertise advising on academy conversions, having advised on over 50 conversions since 2010.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR BUSINESS’S USP OVER YOUR PEERS?
Birketts LLP is large enough to provide specialist expertise in most areas of the law at a standard that is frequently compared with major City firms, but not at the expense of maintaining a personal and tailored service.
We are flexible about everything except our reputation for maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards.
I have over 7 years of experience as a charity law specialist, and a background as a corporate lawyer in the City (Allen & Overy LLP). This means that I am able to provide City quality, specialist legal advice to charity and social enterprise clients without having to charge City prices.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST BUSINESS CHALLENGE SO FAR?
My biggest challenge since joining Birketts has been starting all over again with developing a network in this region.
I grew up in Suffolk, but began my career in the City at Allen & Overy LLP. After about 5 years there, I decided that the City life was not for me, took a break to read for a Masters degree in law at Oxford University (the Oxford BCL), then joined a charities practice at a firm in Oxford.
I have specialised in charity law ever since, and had developed a strong practice in Oxfordshire, but Tom and I decided to relocate to Ipswich after we had a beautiful baby boy (Aedan). We just felt too far from family and wanted to move closer. We now live next door to one of my sisters, so we have certainly achieved that goal!
AND YOUR GREATEST SUCCESS?
I was recruited by Birketts LLP to join a rapidly growing charities and social enterprise team and help us to become the “go to” firm for charities and social enterprises in this region and beyond. I think we are already well on our way to achieving that goal.
Since joining the firm, I have launched of a new rolling programme of Charity Trustee Induction and Refresher Training, and a newsletter for charity trustees and senior managers. I am very proud of both, as I think they provide fantastic resources for charities in this region.
WHAT DOES THE NEXT 12 MONTHS HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU?
Lots more profile raising, marketing and networking. I am also building up my workload, and have a lot of really interesting matters for fantastic clients, which will keep me busy! One of the things I love most about what I do is the lovely clients that I get to work with: the third sector is such a friendly and vibrant sector, filled with people who are incredibly dedicated and passionate about what they do.
I will be delivering seminars or speaking at events for various organisations, including Community Action Suffolk, Hospice UK, and the Charity Retail Association. I will be busy delivering Charity Trustee Induction & Refresher Training around the region (the next session is in Norwich in September). I am also going to be getting involved as a Trustee in a fantastic new charity in East Anglia, which I am really excited about!
AND IN FIVE YEARS TIME YOU’D LIKE THE BUSINESS TO?
Our goal is to become the “go to” firm for charities and social enterprises in East Anglia and beyond. In five years, I hope that we will have developed a national reputation for what we do and the excellent service that we provide.
NATURALLY, YOU WANT TO REACH CUSTOMERS AND SUPPLIERS AND THOSE WHO CAN HELP YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS SUCCEED. WHO MIGHT YOU WANT TO HEAR FROM?
We’d love to hear from charities, education sector bodies, social enterprises and not-for-profit businesses in the region, and any Multi-Academy Trusts with academies in this region or schools thinking about converting to academy status.
We’re also keen to hear from any businesses thinking about setting up their own charitable foundation, any philanthropists engaged in exciting community or voluntary projects, and any umbrella bodies or other businesses that provide services to charities and social enterprises in East Anglia.
WHEN YOU FEEL TROUBLED OR ‘BEATEN’ AT ANY STAGE IN BUSINESS LIFE, WHAT’S YOUR SECRET TO RALLYING YOURSELF?
I focus on the things that I can control, and I think about my “wins” and achievements. I try not to worry about things outside my control, and instead focus on making the most of the opportunities that I have, and doing the very best that I can for my clients and my firm. I also find that being a mum (and all of the challenges that come with that) is an excellent way to maintain perspective!
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR, OR HAVE YOU USED ONE? IF SO, HOW WAS THAT?
Throughout my career, I always seem to have found a senior partner in the firm who I respect, admire and trust and who is willing to be there for me when I need support. I am fortunate to be surrounded by many friendly and supportive partners at Birketts, and one in particular has taken on a mentorship role for me since I joined the firm.
I find it really helpful to have a mentor, and it means a lot that a very busy person will take time out of their day to help me with my concerns. I hope to be able to do the same for others later in my career.
WHAT’S CHANGING ABOUT YOUR INDUSTRY THAT MAKES IT SUCH A GOOD SPACE TO BE IN?
There is a huge amount of change within the third sector at the moment; in fact, I have always found it to be a constantly evolving sector.
Charities have to continuously adapt to the changing needs of society, the political climate and a legal and regulatory framework that never seems to sit still.
Current challenges include funding gaps, the increasing demand for charities to deliver services in the community, and the significant changes affecting fundraising (including GDPR, new legal requirements, Fundraising Regulator and Fundraising Preference Service, and changes to the Code of Fundraising Practice).
The third sector is diverse, dynamic, exciting and constantly evolving. This means that the needs of clients are also constantly evolving. I absolutely love working within this space, and enjoy the challenge of staying ahead of the curve.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE WANTING TO ENTER YOUR INDUSTRY SPACE?
I have worked in a number of different sectors and the third sector is by far the most interesting, diverse and challenging. I absolutely love it!
THE PLUG BIT:
AND NOW THE SLIGHTLY LESS CORPORATE BIT:
BEST THING ABOUT EAST ANGLIA:
This is home for me – it is where I was raised, and where my family live. I love the familiarity of the region, being so close to family and childhood friends, and I love being able to share my favourite childhood places with my son.
YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS:
Friendly, hardworking, compassionate
Travelling on a gap year. I have done a lot of travelling over the years and been to some amazing places, but have always regretted not taking time out during my studies to travel the world on a shoestring!
FANTASY DINNER PARTY GUESTS:
David Mitchell, David Attenborough, JK Rowling
WHERE YOU LIVE, WHERE YOU’RE ORIGINALLY FROM (AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE), HOW OLD YOU ARE, WHO YOU LIVE WITH:
I’m 36 and I live in Ipswich with my partner (Tom, who is a soft tissue therapist – www.tomconroy.co.uk), our son and our dog and cat. I grew up in Needham Market, and we moved back to this area to be closer to family after Aedan was born.