Restructuring and insolvency Partner, Melia Hirst, began her career at Lester Aldridge LLP in 2002 as a Junior PA, following that she successfully began her training contract at the firm in 2004.
Having been promoted to Partner in 2019, Melia ‘focuses her practice on corporate restructuring and advises insolvent debtors. A client notes her “excellent knowledge of all insolvency matters,” adding that she is “very approachable and commercial.”’ (Chambers and Partners 2020).
We talked to Melia about her journey from a Junior PA to Partner at Lester Aldridge.
What was the process of you becoming a Partner?
I started at the firm in 2002 as a Junior PA in the Employment team, just following my graduation from my law degree in London. I successfully applied for a legal training contract starting in 2004. I went to complete my LPC and continued to work part-time at the firm in the Credit Control team around my studies. I qualified in 2006 into the insolvency team of the firm which had been the final two seats of my training contract (not originally planning to end up in this team but getting interested after I had previously been asked to take some deeds to the insolvency partner for a parcel of land which was going to be subject to a bank receivership). I had enjoyed the buzz and fast-pace of insolvency work from my time in those seats and there was plenty of work so it seemed like a natural fit. Shortly after qualification, I took up a role in another regional law firm where I spent 8 years working mainly on insolvency transactional and appointment work and I reached Associate level. I returned to LA as an Associate in the restructuring and insolvency team in 2015 and was promoted to Partner in May 2019 after a successful reintegration into the firm and helping expand the restructuring and insolvency practice at the firm.
What made you choose to start your legal career at Lester Aldridge?
I am a local Bournemouth girl and spent my year 10 work experience at LA so I had long-standing aspirations to train at the firm. Plus, my late grandfather was one of the founding partners of LA upon the merger between Lester Russell and Mooring Aldridge and Haydon in the late Eighties so it seems like a natural choice. However, I was equally attracted by the quality and breadth of work and the presence of the firm in the local market when deciding to apply, having previously pondered a career in London. The firm had a brilliant brand and edgy marketing campaign at the time which made it an exciting time to be part of it.
What seats did you train in?
My first seat was in real estate in Bournemouth and I distinctly remember dealing with a number of first registrations involving many very old deeds and documents as well as being involved in the sale of a large local hotel.
My second seat was in the fast track team at the then Hurn office site. I had what seemed like hundreds of small claims cases transferred into my name for county court debt recovery action. The seat involved many rushed trips to Poole County Court where I cut my teeth on some advocacy!
My final two seats were in the insolvency team in Southampton.
Did you always know you wanted to specialise in restructuring and insolvency?
I hadn’t intended on insolvency at the outset and thought that I might want to specialise in Marine or Employment. However, having been unexpectedly pulled into an insolvency seat at the end of my first seat, I got my first taste of the adrenaline and determination that comes with trying to rescue a business that has hit the buffers. It was a local private school that had been threatened with receivership action by the bank. The school trustees and headmaster were beyond desperate to find a solution to avoid the inevitable heartbreak that comes with closing a much-loved school with history. There were several days of late evening meetings in January trying to find other ways of bringing investment in to save the situation but unfortunately, no solution could be found and the school had to close. It wasn’t an easy experience, part of the challenge came in trying to do the right thing by the parents, staff and pupils and balancing that against the interests of the bank. Since that first job, I have been involved in many insolvency jobs with a far happier ending and the buzz that comes after completing on a sale of a business out of insolvency (preserving jobs, goodwill and contract value as well as seeing a return to creditors) is what keeps me going through those jobs with less positive endings.
What has been your legal career highlight to date?
There have been many! I have been involved in rescuing so many different types of businesses over the thirteen years since I qualified that they are hard to distinguish from each other. The jobs that stand out have often involved high-profile aspects such as acting for a consortium of charity creditors to recover monies held by the failed Icelandic bank, Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander. Another time being involved in the buy-back by a secured creditor of the rights in a film produced by a company which went into administration, featuring a Hollywood movie star. A particular highlight was acting for the purchaser of a small charitable independent school out of liquidation which was a success story, following my first experience which had not such a happy ending.
If you could go back to when you were a trainee and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Remember that you aren’t expected to know all of the answers and that it is ok to ask questions or seek clarification to learn.
Secondly, note that the trip from Hurn to Poole County Court takes longer than half an hour during certain times of the day!
What advice do you have for current trainees?
Demonstrate a ‘can-do’ attitude and put yourself forward for as much as you feel able to. Expand your experience through attending marketing and technical events hosted by the firm to get into practice with face-to-face interactions with clients.
Don’t hide behind emails or shy away from phone calls – sometimes they are the best way of getting your point across and receiving information, even if you have something difficult to convey.
Finally, try and push yourself out of your comfort zone – you might just surprise yourself!