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Fiona Callister talks to Edward Smethurst, the 30-year-old lawyer and millionaire property developer whose latest challenge is the chairmanship of the the Law Society’s commerce & industry group.
It seems the Law Society has finally embraced the cult of youth.
The new chairman of its commerce and industry (C&I) group is fresh-faced Edward Smethurst, senior legal adviser at British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), who at 30 is by far the youngest person to take up the position.
But the question of whether he will manage to persuade his elders in the group that he is more than just a young upstart does not concern Smethurst.
“Anyone who knows me well knows that when I was 16, I was 16 going on 25, and now I am 30, I’m going on 40. I have done a lot in my relatively few years,” he says. “Three or four years ago, my age was a particular problem. People would look at me and dismiss me as only being a twenty-something.”
For an amateur psychologist his impressive CV could provide rich pickings. After being orphaned as a child, Smethurst left home at 16 and worked his way through A-levels and university. While his fellow students were filling in the time between lectures in the pub, he was holding down a job in his home town of Rochdale and commuting to Leeds University, before completing his articles at Manchester firm Halliwell Landau.
His fondness for being as busy as humanly possible is something that has stayed with him in his present career. He heads the in-house team at BNFL while also working as a property developer, which helps bolster his financial status.
He says: “I have acquired and developed land for domestic use which has made me, at 30 years of age, a self-made millionaire. It has given me a very nice home with 40-odd acres of land.”
But would it not be financially viable to pack in the day job and simply watch the cash flow in?
“That is a question that my wife often asks me,” he laughs. “The answer is that I very much enjoy what I do. Also, people come and go in the property business, but you don’t see too many destitute lawyers.”
Readers at this point may be forgiven for regarding Smethurst in the same vein as that intelligent, sporty boy at school who always got the girls, but he is actually charmingly earnest. He is obviously proud of his achievements, but he is also eager to please.
To announce his C&I appointment, he sent out a five-page release which could have been subtitled “Everything you ever wanted to know about Edward G Smethurst but were afraid to ask.”
Smethurst apologises for its length, however, saying he had never written a release before and was not entirely sure how to go about it.
But while his writing skills might not be as honed as he might like, Smethurst is clear on his intentions for the C&I group. He says he is aiming to make it wholly national to expand its membership, which is currently concentrated in London and the North West.
And he is also determined to promote the image of in-house lawyers. “While it is true that 10 or 20 years ago in-house work was not seen as being as sexy as private practice, people are now beginning to realise that the in-house departments are getting bigger and are trying to keep work from the top of the deck and deal work out from the bottom. This is partly because of cost and partly because the in-house lawyers cherry pick,” admits Smethurst.
But while he remains confident about achieving the goals he has set himself, he adds with an excitement which is the only thing to belie his age in the interview: “I even get my face on the news from time to time.”
Head of commerce and industry group