1.Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Toby Joel. I am a partner at Jacksons Law Firm and based in our Stockton office. I head up the Dispute Resolution and Debt Recovery department. We are a team of seven lawyers; each lawyer has a specialism, though we all deal with litigious claims. I started working at Jacksons during August 1989 and have been at the firm ever since. I was promoted to Partner during 2009 and then to Head of Department in 2015.
2. Where did you grow up?
I was born in 1973 at Cater Bequest Hospital, Middlesbrough, Cleveland. I grew up in Acklam, attending Acklam Whin Primary School and then Acklam Grange Secondary School. My family has always lived in Middlesbrough, my mother grew up in Ayresome and my father grew up in North Ormesby. My parents bought our first home in Acklam, where I lived until I bought my first home in Acklam shortly after joining Jacksons.
3. What brought you to Jacksons?
I left Acklam Grange Secondary School during 1989 and was destined to start studying at Acklam Sixth Form College in the September of 1989. My mother, who at the time, was a secretary at Jacksons working for the then senior partner, Kevin Fletcher mentioned the possibility that I might want to look at studying law and taking a work placement at Jacksons. To be honest, to that point, I had not really considered which direction my career path would follow. I enrolled on the ILEX course studying to qualify as a Legal Executive. After a few weeks of study, I was offered interviews at some of our local law firms, one being Jacksons. I chose Jacksons for my first interview and was interviewed by Robin Bloom and offered a two year YTS. I started working at Jacksons at the very end of August 1989 in the litigation department and I have remained there throughout my entire career. I will not lie, it was tough in the early years, I remember my weekly wage during my first year of the YTS being £27 and in the second year it increased to £31 a week. It was a hard transition moving from school into full time employment and into a service sector job, managing client expectations, attending court hearings, maintaining a case load and battling with opponents. Some of those opponents I am still battling with now!
4. What changes or difficulties have you seen in Teesside during the time you have been at Jacksons?
When I started at Jacksons during 1989 the firm had two offices, a Stockton office at Dovecote Street and the Middlesbrough Office at Queens Square. I was based in the Middlesbrough office. Middlesbrough town centre in the 1980’s, and even the early 1990’s, needed a complete root and branch transformation. I am happy to see that that transformation is now well under way. The area which was fondly referred to by many Teessiders as “over the boarder” is now a vibrant business sector with the fantastic Middlesbrough College offering education to thousands of students.
Growing up on Teesside, I was only too aware that the area was renowned for heavy industry. In fact, my father worked at ICI Wilton his entire adult life, and my father-in-law was exactly the same. Everybody knew somebody who was involved in the steel making or petrochemical industries. Losing steel making was a big blow to the area. I play golf at Cleveland Golf Club, Redcar so I know lots of people who were made redundant when they closed the blast furnace. That was definitely one of the darker times for our area.
The positivity in Teesside these days is amazing. The region is continually reinventing itself. We now have a Digital Hub ready to equip businesses with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to thrive in the ever-expanding digital world. Where we once had Teesside Polytechnic, we now have the amazing Teesside University which has completely transformed itself since the 1980’s into an incredible state of the art University where students from around the United Kingdom and beyond, apply every year to study. In fact, my daughter starts a midwifery course at Teesside University this September.
PD Ports has succeeded in its mission to achieve a Free Port status and that in itself is going to bring so many jobs to the area, along with many opportunities for exciting careers for our youngsters for generations to come.
Teesside International Airport is back on the right track to become a vibrant busy airport again. I remember growing up, and the yearly trip to the airport to catch a flight to Majorca. I never did like the name changing to Durham Tees Valley Airport. There is a lot of great work going on to enable the airport to compete with airports in the region and in other parts of the UK.
We have the EDF Teesside Wind Farm sitting just off the coast of Redcar, currently 27 turbines have been running since the site opened in April 2014. Incredibly, the Redcar wind farm is the North East’s first large-scale commercial wind farm which was constructed by 22 local companies.
The Treasury North jobs coming to Darlington is another real coup for the area. It just proves the region is doing so well that Whitehall is prepared to move so many jobs to our region.
5. How do you see the future for the region?
Evolving all of the time. Especially now we have Free Port status, and the plans to transform the steel works. The area is a magnet for companies wanting to grow and with the enthusiastic Teesside folk, I can see this region taking off.
6. What do you do to support local community?
Around 2011, I spoke to MacMillan Academy regarding setting up a structured work placement programme for their students. The plan being, that Jacksons will take Post 16 students who are interested in a career in law on a work placement. This has been operated successfully since 2011. We have seen over 80 students gain work experience at our Stockton office, working alongside our qualified solicitors and getting an insight into a legal career. I have also been on site at the Academy to give talks and presentations on what we do, and encourage students to consider a career in Law in Teesside. I am now in my third years as Governor there. I am also a Member of the Board of Trustees.
The work placement scheme is not restricted only to MacMillan Academy. In fact, we attract students from a wide variety of secondary schools and colleges. I am also an enterprise Advisor and part of the Tees Valley Combined Authority Network Group.
7. What projects have you been involved in which y are most proud to be associated with?
I think it has to be work we do with students and seeing students who come to us first time as year 10, and then again as Post 16, and then again whilst at University. I have interviewed some of those students for training contracts, and we employ some of those students who are now our trainee solicitors and seen others who have gone on to qualify as solicitors.
8. What have you done to support staff at Jacksons during the last year when most have been working from home?
One of my partnership responsibilities is to manage our IT function. We do this with off site support. During the last 12 months, I will not lie it has been testing. We have amazing support from Cornerstone BS, but everybody knows IT has a mind of its own, and when everything seems to be running smoothly, you will hit a bump in the road, and that is when we need the help of our off-site support.
I am one of four partners in Jacksons’ “Covid 19” committee which we set up just prior to the first lockdown to ensure that we manage the firm from our homes, which we continue to do successfully. We had a zoom meeting every working day at 4 o’clock during the first lockdown, just to make sure everything was ticking along as best as it could. Daily bulletins were emailed to all staff from Jane Armitate, our Managing Partner and we host an all staff communications meeting fortnightly. I did not expect Jacksons to do as well as it has done during the last year with so much upheaval. It is testament to the business and our staff that we have come through this period in fantastic shape.
9. Sum up why Teesside is a great place to work and live in one sentence.
The North York Moors and Cleveland Coast are only 20 minutes’ drive from central Middlesbrough, the sites and scenery are breath taking.
Toby Joel, Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution and Debt Recovery.