1. Who are you and what do you do?
I am Nicola Neilson, one of the Partners here at Jacksons. I joined the firm in 2019 as Head of Agricultural Property.
My job title is probably a little misleading, as agricultural law extends beyond property matters and so I spend a lot of time working with colleagues in other teams, working to bring together all of our expertise to help our agricultural clients. I also work closely with the National Farmers Union (NFU), as the firm is the panel legal firm for Northumberland, North Riding, Durham and Tyne & Wear.
2. Where did you go to school/uni?
I am originally from Lancashire. I attended St Hilda’s RC Girls’ High School and then joined the sixth form at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School. After my A-levels, I moved to Middlesbrough to study law at Teesside University before joining Durham University to do a Master’s degree. I decided to do the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law (now the University of Law) on a part-time basis whilst undertaking my training contract. This meant that that my training contract was slightly longer than most. Whilst it was hard juggling a full-time job and part-time study, it meant that I had a much better understanding of my chosen area of law when I did finally qualify.
3. What brought you to Teesside and Jacksons in particular?
Having moved to Teesside for university, I decided to stay after I had finished my degree. There was lots going on in the area at the time and there were opportunities that I may not have had if I had moved back home. Over the last 25 years I have spent most of that time either living or working on Teesside, and it is fantastic to see the changes that have taken place over that time.
The opportunity arose to join Jacksons in late 2018. At the first meeting (I couldn’t really call it an interview), it was clear that the firm was very dynamic and really focussed on their clients and the people who work at the firm. People are so important to any organisation, and it was very apparent that the partners wanted to do their very best to allow their teams to thrive by allowing flexibility and being family-focussed. All of the talk was about ‘teams’ rather than ‘departments’ and having joined the firm I now know why – we are one big team and that really shows.
And, of course, the commercial property team is an award-winning team, so who wouldn’t want to join it!
4. What do you love about being a commercial property lawyer and working in the agricultural sector?
Commercial property and agricultural property are very different; the properties are, obviously, different, but the clients are very different too. There are so many things to consider, especially if you are helping a client to buy a farm, and I love to get out on site and see how things lie on the ground – there are often things that become obvious on the ground that you wouldn’t pick up on by just looking at plans.
Agricultural property is quite a niche area of law and some of the legislation behind it, particularly tenancies, is complex. As I have mentioned, it is rare that a sale or purchase of a farm or a tenancy would be dealt with in isolation and I get to work with a wide range of professional, not only colleagues but also land agents and accountants. Being a part of the bigger picture and helping clients to achieve longer term goals is really rewarding.
5. What do you do to support the local community?
I really feel that it is important to give something back to the community and over the years I have done lots of voluntary work. For over 16 years I was a Guider for a local Rainbows unit. As my daughter got older and moved on to other things, I have taken up other voluntary roles instead, and I am currently the Chair of our local swimming club.
I have recently become a mentor with The Girls Network and I am working with a mentee in a local college to offer guidance and hopefully to inspire her to achieve her career goals.
I am a member of a committee in the village where I live which organises events for the local children and I am also actively involved in our local litter-picking group, The Wombles of Hambleton.
6. What projects have you been involved with which you are most proud to be associated with?
Since I joined Jacksons, I have worked with colleagues to really build on the work that we had been doing with the NFU for many years. I have introduced other members of the Jacksons’ team to the regional and national NFU contacts, which means that there isn’t reliance on one contact here and NFU know who to turn to if they have a query about a litigation matter or a marketing idea. They can go straight to the right person, which makes everything much more efficient.
I have also worked on bringing everything together under the agriculture umbrella. Previously, we had lots of teams working with our agricultural clients, but not necessarily working together with a common aim. We now have regular agriculture team meetings and we work much more collaboratively, which benefits both the clients and the firm.
In addition, I am the firm’s quality partner and over the last 18 months I have made changes to the way that internal quality reviews are undertaken and how they are recorded. We now have a much better way of ensuring that reviews are done at the right time and that they are more focussed.
7. What do you do to keep in touch with the business community in the area?
During lockdown, we introduced ‘canny catch ups’, which basically involve us picking up the phone and checking in with contacts and clients to see how they and their businesses are. There is no agenda, it is just an opportunity to let them know that we are thinking about them and they can always raise things that they might not have raised if we hadn’t picked up the phone and called them.
We have also continued with our series of podcasts and I have been involved a in a couple of agricultural podcasts over the last year, which has been a great way to get information out to people whilst they haven’t been able to get out and about themselves.
Ordinarily, I would attend lots of networking events; ones that Jacksons host and third-party events. Whilst events have been reduced in number, I have taken part in a number of online events and as a firm we have tried to put on a few innovative events which have allowed us to keep in touch with contacts during lockdown – the virtual keep fit class was particularly memorable!
8. What have you done to support staff at Jacksons during the last few months when they have been working from home?
Supporting colleagues has been of paramount importance during lockdown. As a firm we have ensured that there are open lines of communication at all times. We have done things as a whole firm, such as our regular bulletins and fortnightly communications meetings with the recently introduced ‘Ask the Partner’ slot, which have been a great way for staff, and particularly people who have joined during lockdown, to get to know the partners on a more personal level. Every team has had their own way of keeping in touch. The commercial property team’s bacon butty breakfast meetings have proved popular!
Mental health has been very much in focus over the last 15 months. As a firm we have tried to offer opportunities for people to get together socially (albeit virtually) and we have added a competitive element to everyday exercise at times. We have had walking and steps challenges, the aforementioned keep fit class (the word ‘keep’ is used very loosely from my perspective!), the obligatory online quizzes, craft competitions and quick lunchtime scavenger hunts.
9. Sum up why Jacksons is a great place to work in one sentence.
We have a fantastic team of people, who are not only highly-experienced but also pragmatic and very supportive of both each other and the business communities in which we work.
Please share the article