Spotlight on a solicitor is a series where we showcase the talent of our legal professionals. In these interviews, we get to know more about the people behind the expert advice. Recently, we caught up with Helen Cowan, a member of our commercial property team. Helen joined Harper James in January 2023 as a senior commercial property solicitor.
What inspired you to practice law?
‘My parents always joked that when I was growing up, I asked a lot of questions about everything and seemed to have a very strong sense of right and wrong. By the time I was choosing my A-Levels, I was either going to be a writer or a lawyer, and one seemed like a more secure career choice than the other! I ended up as a commercial property lawyer because I like the combination of assisting public sector entities and businesses but with the tangible element of physical property. There are many ways in which good property advice can add value to a business; by saving money, adding flexibility and limiting liability.'
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
‘Over the last couple of years in particular, I have dealt with some very complex joint venture acquisition transactions for NHS Trusts. The challenge of finding ways to navigate the clients’ requirements (including limitation of exposure and adding value), the need to stay on top of the ever changing NHS landscape and the joint venture element was both demanding and satisfying. I was also heavily involved in EU Exit transition work which included fast paced acquisitions in relation to lorry parks and customs requirements, which was both time sensitive and high profile.'
What do you think your clients value the most about how you work with them?
‘I’m told that I am personable, straightforward and committed. My aim is to make a transaction run as smoothly as possible. I like to really get to know a client and their business - a client should feel a true collaboration with their solicitor.'
How clients can protect themselves from interest rate rises/inflationary pressures?
‘In a commercial property context, if a business has leasehold interests, they should take a look at the key dates affecting their leases. If their leases are coming up to expiry or contain break options that can be exercised in the near future, they should consider reviewing their operational requirements and seeing whether there are options to re-negotiate rent and other lease terms with their landlord, to either reduce rental liability and/or add more flexibility into their lease commitments so that they can exit or downsize if necessary.'
Tell us about a prediction for your practice area in the future?
‘Landlords and tenants are facing ever-tightening regulations in respect of net-zero, on top of a challenging economic landscape. Landlords will continue to push for ‘green lease’ clauses and the ability to pass regulatory compliance on to tenants, whereas tenants will be looking to limit exposure as much as possible whilst also looking to retain flexibility in relation to their occupation. Many tenants will want the ability to share their spaces and to build in rent free periods and break clauses. It can really help to get a solicitor involved early on when negotiating new lease terms – we can take a look and advise on what a client’s business might want to include in the ‘Heads of Terms’, which could well save time and legal fees later on.'
What do you do to unwind?
‘I really need fresh air every day! I’m lucky enough to live both in a city but also on the edge of some extensive park land and woods, so getting out for a daily walk is essential, whatever the weather! Working from home for Harper James gives me the flexibility to get out in the open when I want to.'