60-second interview with Alexander Learmonth

Monday, 18 January 2021
This award is a tribute to everyone who helps New Square Chambers have such a strong offering for clients, says PCA winner Alexander Learmonth QC TEP.

What is your role within your workplace?

I’m a barrister, specialising in succession disputes at New Square Chambers in London. I’m the editor of two of the leading textbooks in the area, Theobald on Wills and Williams, Mortimer & Sunnucks on Executors, Administrators & Probate.

How did it feel to win a STEP Private Client Award for Advocate of the Year?

I was gobsmacked even to have been listed as a finalist, so to hear my name read out in the golden tones of Roger Tilling was amazing. While it was a shame we didn’t have a live awards dinner, as I was running around the house waving a bottle of bubbly, it was probably just as well! Then exactly a week later I received the fantastic news that I am to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel, to join the other finalists on ‘the front bench’. So it was a wonderful few weeks.

Why is winning a STEP PCA important to your firm?

We have such a great team in chambers: a really friendly and accommodating group of practice managers, for whom nothing is too much trouble, either for us as barristers, or more importantly, for our clients; and several highly respected practitioners across the whole range of trusts and estates work. So although ‘Chambers of the Year’ is no longer awarded, I think of this award as being a tribute to everyone who helps New Square Chambers to have such a strong offering for clients here and offshore, and gives us all a boost. I hope this award and my appointment will provide a further fillip to my practice, and give other potential clients confidence to instruct me and my colleagues to assist them with trusts and estates disputes.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation at the moment?

It’s been a tough time for everyone, and in fact I think chambers has come through it wonderfully well. The courts have been dealing with almost all cases remotely, and now everyone has got the hang of that, workflow seems to have bounced back really quickly. If this pandemic had struck only a few years ago, I think it would have been very much more difficult to keep going.

What do you like best about your job?

Since I do lots of trusts and succession work, my cases are about real people in real families, and the disputes I help with are usually about more than just money. So every case is different, and to do my job well means keeping one eye on how the legal dispute fits into wider family issues. I often think how lucky I am to be doing the sort of work I do.

… and what do you feel is most worthwhile?

When a case is over, whether through a judgment in my client’s favour, or after a successful mediation, or even just a decision not to pursue something, and I see that sense of relief flooding through their faces, and the pressure of litigation lifting from them, it’s a great feeling. I think that’s what keeps me going!

What would you say to a young person thinking of a career in this industry?

When I started working towards qualification as a barrister, more than 20 years ago, people were already saying how hard it was, and how one shouldn’t attempt it unless it was the only thing one could contemplate doing. These days it seems even harder – bigger student debts, higher bar school fees, higher expectations and even more intense competition. But unlike some areas of the Bar, where the future of independent practice becomes ever more uncertain, I’m sure that trusts and estates work is here to stay, and I would recommend it to anyone who has a passion for solving difficult legal (and other) problems for real people.

Where do you see future growth, both in terms of sectors and jurisdictions?

In the short-term we have the fallout from coronavirus to deal with. It’s distasteful to say it, but I’m quite sure it will give rise to more disputes: the rather unsatisfactory temporary rules introduced in England and Wales (and other jurisdictions) for remote-witnessing of wills, the rush to make wills in difficult circumstances, and the sheer number of additional deaths. And then we have the reforms being proposed by the Law Commission on the horizon, and if they come into force, then there will inevitably be a glut of litigation as their ambit and application are worked out by the courts.

Which social media channels do you use and why?

I’m on LinkedIn, which is great for sharing legal news, and Twitter, which is more about trying to resist retweeting political material! But I love Facebook most, for keeping in touch with old friends – I don’t usually put work-related stuff on there, just family, pets, home-improvements, and music: the other side of life!

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Alexander Learmonth
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Alexander Learmonth

Alexander Learmonth QC TEP is a barrister at New Square Chambers, Lincoln's Inn, London