Winning ways make solicitor a leading light of profession
IN just a few short years, Qamer Ghafoor went from being a newly-qualified solicitor to handling commercial disputes in which millions of pounds were at stake.
Having graduated from basic cases to assembling teams of expert witnesses to advise on complex insurance claims, he is an equity partner at Flint Bishop, manages a team of 22 in the litigation department and is regarded by the Legal 500 – a guide to the UK's top lawyers – as one of the best litigators in the country.
"In the early days, the department was made up of one solicitor and a handful of other staff, mostly dealing with run-of-the-mill and mid-range disputes," said Qamer.
"But, by winning more and more cases in the region and nationally, our reputation started to grow and the quality of work improved."
A recent insurance dispute dealt with by the commercial litigation team at Flint Bishop required several hundred lever-arch files full of documents.
Although the details of the case are confidential, Qamer does reveal that he won the work ahead of a top London law firm and went on to win the case on behalf of the client.
Litigation is an expensive business and for lawyers specialising in this area it can be a precarious one.
A lawyer who advises on a dispute that their client goes on to lose can, more often than not, kiss goodbye to any more instructions from that particular client.
"You are always judged by your last case and I get disgruntled individuals calling me unhappy with their previous lawyer," said Qamer.
"Last week, I was speaking to someone who'd had a six-figure judgement against them that came with £40,000 of legal costs and it was obvious that the previous solicitor was outside their comfort zone.
"It is easy to waste a whole lot of money on litigation, which means that it is important to ensure that the case is properly investigated.
"In some cases I have to advise clients on how to mitigate losses when the law is not on their side."
It is a complicated area, necessitating specialist expertise in property, contract, insolvency, negligence and company law. In recent years, businesses have become more astute about the quality of advice they are receiving, which has resulted in an increase in the number of professionals that Qamer and his team are called upon to sue.
"Negligent professional advice and challenging a bank's lending practices when personal guarantees are involved are the kind of issues that are arising more frequently."
Relatively few of Qamer's cases reach the courts and he claims not to remember the last time he lost a case.
"I find that cases will only go to court when I'm dealing with solicitors who don't really understand the law or are being unrealistic as to their prospects," he said.
"What I have to say is not always what a client wants to hear.
"I find that people tend to respect getting a true reflection of their prospects of winning and would prefer to get out of a dispute early on rather than run the risk of wasting a lot of money," he said.
A competitive nature is important for a career in litigation. It involves legal jousting with diplomacy, the capacity to dole out stick and also to offer the odd carrot when necessary.
"My style of approach is firm but fair and I treat each case as if it were my own and work hard to find the best way to achieve a result.
"It seems that whatever the state of the economy, litigators are always busy and we are always looking for good people to join the department but they are hard to find."
Qamer's success and attitude to his work is due, in part, to his father.
A teacher by profession, Mr Ghafoor senior arrived in the UK in 1963, initially working in a factory and driving buses in Rochdale before relocating to South Wales.
There, he founded a construction business that grew to employ 90 people, carrying out major housing projects in the public and private sector.
"Having come to the country with nothing, he worked very hard and instilled in his children a fierce drive and determination," said Qamer.
"He was business orientated but never materialistic and, whatever he did, he did for his family.
"Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is difficult but something that I'm working on," he said, wisely steering clear of any dispute with his wife or children.