Meet Veronica Howley, Hillyer McKeown Head of Commercial Litigation
For the last 20 years or so, I have helped clients to resolve complex and novel disputes concerning money, land, or other substantial assets. Often, disputes involve interlocking problems that need to be resolved together.
It can be difficult to explain what I do day to day as the nature of the cases I deal with means there are no ‘routine’ days. Briefly, the areas I specialise in are:
- Contentious probate (disagreements when someone dies without making a Will).
- Contentious property.
- Shareholder and partnership disputes.
- Professional negligence in these areas.
Disputes about probate
Contentious probate covers a wide range of disputes concerning the estate of someone who has died. This can lead to a family disputes over probate.
Sometimes people question whether a Will is valid; often there is a disagreement over money the deceased left for the claimant. Also, there could be a failure by the personal representatives of the estate to administer the estate. Or, people simply cannot get on with each other, even for the limited purpose of administering the estate.
Contentious property covers a wide range of disputes that can arise where property is bought or sold; or which arise during the course of ownership. This covers:
- the terms upon which property is held
- disagreements between co-owners of the same property (often about ownership over a ‘share’ of the property)
- disagreements between the owners of neighbouring properties
- the rights that one person may have over another’s land.
Partnership and shareholder disputes can arise when:
- there is conflict between business owners about how the business is run, pay, benefits, or the division of work.
- one business owner is believed to be acting against the interest of the other owners, or against the business itself.
- a business owner dies, or loses the capacity to manage their own affairs, without having made plans to secure the continuity of the business.
Professional negligence can occur in any of the above, and will occur where a professional has a duty of care to the claimant, that they acted in breach of that duty, and in doing so, caused the claimant to suffer a financial loss.
These areas of law do overlap, which is why it is necessary for me to have a good working knowledge of all of them. I am a member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists and the Professional Negligence Lawyers Association. I am also an ADRg accredited mediator.
Personal qualities required for contentious probate
A key part of my role is the ability to understand, quickly, the origin of the dispute; to reach a solution I need to grasp what the client wants to achieve.
Litigation is not always inevitable, nor desirable, and most cases can be resolved without going to trial. This can happen where the parties have a clear understanding of what litigation entails, and what alternatives may be available that may lead to a better outcome. I guide people through options, including avoiding litigation as appropriate.
An understanding of the law is a given. Equally important skills required to resolve a complex dispute are:
- having a narrow focus and tenacity
- a commercial approach
- the ability to balance the big picture with a keen eye for detail.
How to avoid a dispute
Most of the disputes that I am asked to resolve concern the breakdown of a relationship between once close family members, or business associates who started out as friends.
It can be difficult to imagine the consequences of that sort of relationship breakdown, but they can be devastating. Many could be avoided altogether by advance planning with the assistance of legal professionals. The costs of future-proofing through legal documents may be less than you think, and should be treated as an investment for peace of mind.
A Will, carefully considered by you and prepared by a legal professional, will substantially reduce the scope for any claim against your estate after your death. My colleagues in the Wills and Probate team, are experts in estate planning and ensuring business continuity. They can prepare your personal Will or a Business Will (which combines personal and business affairs, setting out shareholder agreements and removing a huge tax burden in the future).
Similarly, removing the scope for disputes that I am frequently asked to assist with include:
- deed of trust or other written agreement in relation to property ownership or use
- shareholder or partnership agreement to regulate the relationship between business owners.
Memberships and accreditations
- The Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists.
- Professional Negligence Lawyers Association.
- ADRg accredited mediator.
Outside of work
The best downtime is spent with family and friends. I love to garden and to cook – I cook what I grow and keep the garden busy. As a necessary break from eating the garden I walk, and enjoy getting slightly lost in hills and woodland.
What clients say
Veronica Howley is the best solicitor I have had the privilege to know over the last ten years. She brings kindness, compassion and always made me feel as if I was her only client. This is a very endearing quality, as at times it is very scary and overwhelming when taking litigation.
I cannot recommend her enough – she is amazing. I would rather have her in my corner, than trying to defend against her sheer determination to win for her client.
Keith, shareholder dispute client