Georgina Bligh-Smith joined the insolvency and restructuring team at Pannone Corporate in April 2021, after completing her Legal Practice Course.

Despite joining at a time when many people were still working from home, Georgina says she was made to feel “right at home” very quickly by a team full of legal professionals who have been at the firm for many years.

Nearly one year on, Georgina talks to us about ‘My Life in Law’, her own career ambitions, and her aim to help improve social mobility in a sector where more work still needs to be done.

Tell us a little bit about what you did before joining Pannone Corporate in April 2021?

Before joining the insolvency and restructuring team last year, I worked as a cost litigation assistant, which is a very niche area of law that many graduates don’t even realise exists! It really goes to show how varied the legal profession is and the range of opportunities out there.

While studying at university I also worked as a Topshop sales assistant for three years – I like to think that every experience has made me into who I am today!

As a paralegal in the insolvency and restructuring team, what does your role consist of?

I assist on a wide range of matters relating to both corporate and personal insolvency and restructuring scenarios. This includes administrations, liquidations and bankruptcies – in each case predominantly acting for insolvency practitioners.

What attracted you to the role at Pannone Corporate?

I was first drawn to Pannone Corporate because of its impressive array of clients and the firm’s specialist approach and focus on commercial law, providing business legal services. This really aligned with my interests and meant that my training would be completely tailored to an area I wanted to progress in.

Most importantly, I was looking to join a firm that had a collaborative culture that would nurture me into a great solicitor – something just felt right at the interview and I knew I’d found the place!

What route did you go down, in terms of training and qualifications?

I very much went down the traditional route: I studied law at the University of Manchester, before undertaking the Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School. I start my training contract with Pannone Corporate next year – something which I am really looking forward to. Once completed, I will finally be a qualified solicitor.

Increasingly, there are more and more avenues for people to choose from when it comes to entering the legal profession.  Why did you choose the traditional route?

If I’m honest, at the time it seemed as though this was the only route to a professional career in law. The sector has become so much more diverse in recent years, in that respect.

If I was starting that journey today I would give some serious thought to undertaking a legal apprenticeship. However, despite the hefty price tag, I really don’t know if I would give up that university experience!

Tell us what does a typical day looks like?

It might sound a bit clichéd, but no two days are ever really the same and this is what I love about the job.

I get to assist different team members with caseloads, covering contentious and non-contentious matters for a range of clients which involve both personal and corporate insolvency scenarios.

Typical tasks include conducting investigations into the conduct of directors of insolvent companies relating to antecedent transactions and misfeasance claims or dealing with possession and sale proceedings in bankruptcy matters and generally assisting with hearing preparations.

One thing that is consistent though is a good cup (or two) of coffee!

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?

Aside from the variety, I would probably say the intellectual challenge. I joined Pannone Corporate right in the middle of the pandemic – something that has had a profound effect on the insolvency sector, in particular.

Not only have companies come under extreme pressure and struggled over the last two years, but insolvency law has continued to evolve in response to the pandemic.

No more so than with the introduction of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020, which has introduced both permanent and temporary measures which we have also seen various extensions to.

As such, it’s been really important to keep abreast of all those changes, adapt and continue to find innovative solutions to the issues faced by clients in the current unusual circumstances.

What are you career ambitions?

Apart from the obvious one of qualifying as a solicitor and successfully making my way through the ranks, I really hope to be able to make a difference in improving social mobility within the legal profession.

As someone who was state school educated and the first generation in my family to go to university, I, like many others, have found navigating the legal profession particularly difficult at times.

I want to help level the playing field for younger people from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether that’s by mentoring students or supporting charities/groups that have this kind of aim in mind – for example, The 93% Foundation.

Whilst work is being done to raise awareness and increase diversity within the profession, in my view more must be done.

If you were managing partner for the day, what’s the first thing you would do?

I would go out and invest in employee fitness in some way shape or form, because participating in regular exercise has had such a positive impact on my own lifestyle and mental health.

Perhaps by partnering with a local gym, to arrange weekly group classes that are private to employees of the firm, with maybe with some light-hearted competition thrown in between different teams/departments!

This would help maintain a healthy, happy and productive workforce, whilst increasing camaraderie between employees at the same time (sounds like a great return on my investment!).

What would you be doing if you didn’t have a career in law?

I almost picked psychology for a degree, so it would probably be something in this field.

Why people do things in the way they do, why they feel and react in a certain way, as well as exploring different personality types, really fascinates me.

In fact, there’s a link with both psychology and the law – psychology seeks to understand and explain human behaviour and the law seeks to regulate it.

Understanding how emotions can complicate decisions taken by clients/opponents or having the ability to anticipate your opponent’s reaction, while being able to use effective tools of persuasion, can be really helpful in law too.

What can lawyers / the legal profession do to better support clients and does anything need to change?

I’d say improving client responsiveness remains an important aim, as this is something clients really value and, whilst it sounds simple, it’s also easy to get wrong and fall short sometimes.

By responsiveness, I don’t mean dealing with everything there and then, but making sure you acknowledge it and manage your clients’ expectations appropriately. This involves being more than just reactive but also proactive, such as updating the client before having to be asked. This is something we are very conscious of as a team and as a firm.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I love hiking, particularly with a good scramble included to make it that bit more adventurous! The highlight of last year was scrambling along a knife-edged ridge called Crib Goch in Snowdonia.

I love escaping from busy city life into the hills with a packed lunch in my rucksack – there is literally nothing better.

This summer I am completing Tour du Mont Blanc – an 11-day hike through Switzerland, France and Italy, covering 170km. The combined elevation of this route (over 10,000m) is higher than Mount Everest is tall.

I always document and post route information/inspiration on my hiking Instagram page @hikewithg_

 

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Pannone Corporate has strengthened its insolvency and restructuring team with the appointment of Richard Wolff as partner.

Richard, who joins from JMW where he established the firm’s insolvency practice over a decade ago, brings nearly 25 years’ experience to the role. He will assist in team growth and development, as well as the expansion of the practice’s client base and professional network.

Specialising in both non-contentious and contentious insolvency and restructuring work, Richard has acted for a wide variety of clients – from insolvency practitioners and lenders, to corporates and private individuals.

Paul Jonson, senior partner at Pannone, said: “We’re delighted to welcome someone of Richard’s calibre to the firm, as we look to expand our expertise and reach within the insolvency and restructuring market.

“The insolvency landscape has changed markedly over the last 12 months and, as a firm, we are keen to capitalise on those developments by strengthening our team.”

Richard’s arrival follows the appointment of Georgina Bligh-Smith, as a paralegal in the insolvency and restructuring team. She will work alongside Richard, together with associate partner, Daniel Clarke, and senior associate, Heather Morris.

Richard commented: “Pannone has an excellent reputation for its ethos and outlook and has exciting ambition and aspirations for insolvency and restructuring as a core practice area within the firm – something that really drew me to the role.

“Over the next 12 months, there will undoubtedly be a period of sustained development and growth for this area of practice within the firm, as the pace within the insolvency and restructuring marketplace shifts up a gear off the back of the coronavirus pandemic and the withdrawal of the government and legislative-backed support measures for the UK economy.”

 

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The reputation of so called ‘pre-pack’ administrations has not always been positive but, in the right circumstances, they’re an effective way of ensuring the future of an otherwise insolvent business. The mechanism allows a potentially valid company to survive, but relieves it of otherwise debilitating debt.

In the midst of a global pandemic, when otherwise viable businesses are finding themselves in unfamiliar financial territory (in many cases, for no reason other than the impact of the pandemic), the option of restructuring in this way is, unsurprisingly, likely to be attractive. For creditors though, the prospect may not be as appealing.

In recent years, the number of pre-packs has generally been falling – be it because of a negative reputation, a changing regulatory and legal landscape, or the appeal of alternative routes. But, as Government restrictions relating to Covid begin to be lifted – whether that be the furlough scheme, or the kind designed to provide businesses with breathing space to continue operating throughout the pandemic – the prospect of a rise in pre-pack administrations is definitely on the horizon.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that the process has come under Government scrutiny at a time when a pre-pack may be regarded as a ‘quick and easy’ solution for struggling companies. Reforms, which will come into force at the end of April, following lengthy consultation by the Government, are designed to rehabilitate the process. The changes (which introduce an independent evaluator) are likely to make pre-packs less straightforward and potentially more expensive to complete.

The reforms are broadly well intentioned – designed to increase trust in the process and reduce the perceived abuse of the mechanism in the past – they may well prove to be an effective way of shaking off the generally negative perception of pre-packs in some quarters. In the right circumstances, and conducted appropriately, pre-packs have always served as a useful tool. It is to be hoped that these reforms will complement the process rather than hinder it.

Whilst it appears unlikely that the floodgates are about to open, with businesses rushing to complete pre-packs before the changes come into effect, there is a window of opportunity for those considering restructuring and it may be prudent to review potential options in that respect prior to the changes coming into effect.

That said, pre-pack administrations will, of course, continue to be a viable option post 30 April. No doubt the industry will adapt to the reforms and we will continue to see the use of the process in appropriate circumstances.

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