Public sector in East Anglia

Birketts LLP

Birketts LLP 'provides excellent customer service and is confident in giving advice on complex legal issues, and one of its major strengths is the ability to view an issue from a local standpoint'. The firm coordinates a strong multidisciplinary team including property, charities, corporate, employment and public law expertise to support public sector clients, among them The Broads Authority, Anglia Ruskin University and South Norfolk Council. Head of public sector and local government Ruth Neave works across all four of the firm's offices, working closely with head of education Abigail Trencher in Cambridge and head of health Matthew Newnham in Norwich. Head of the academies practice Liz Brownsell  in Ipswich is also a key adviser to charities and education clients.

Practice head(s):

Ruth Neave; Abigail Trencher; Matthew Newnham

Other key lawyers:

Liz Brownsell; Hannah Harbottle; Frances Godden


‘Birketts has an unusually strong Administrative and Public Law team for a regional firm, with regular appearances for public bodies and private parties in the Administrative Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. The firm has proved particularly adept at using IT and innovative technologies to maintain and improve client and lawyer contact during the pandemic.’

‘The team meet the needs of our organisation by adapting to what we need rather than thrust what they want to do or think we want. They use various IT to support them which is straightforward and logical.’

‘I find each member of the team effective. Liz Brownsell is good at communicating and thorough in her role. Also, I found Hannah Harbottle and Frances Godden both helpful if I had a query and efficient in dealing with it.’

Birketts provide excellent customer service and are confident in giving advice on complex legal issues. One of their major strengths is their ability to view an issue from a local standpoint; this is a significant advantage for us as a public authority.’

‘Working with Birketts has been fantastic. From my first meeting with Ruth Neave, everything ran smoothly and Ruth is always available for advice on our account. The team provide excellent legal advice and are very responsive to our particular needs.’

‘We have rather specialist legal requirements being in effect a national park navigation and port authority. The team at Birketts has the breadth of expertise to meet our needs. We also have a heavily constrained budget and the monthly reports on the progress of our work and the costs are very useful in tracking what is happening.’

‘Our main contact is Ruth Neave who has proved to provide outstanding service. She coordinates all our tasks and reports regularly on progress. I have a monthly catch-up with her which is really helpful in checking on where the more difficult cases have got to. Her attitude flows down to the solicitors doing the work who listen carefully to the brief and in our experience have provided sound legal advice.’

‘Their experience and knowledge of the independent education sector. Also their local knowledge. They also manage a networking service of independent schools in the local area.’

Key clients

South Norfolk Council

Breckland Council

The Broads Authority

Babergh District Council

Mid Suffolk District Council

Suffolk County Council

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Teaching Regulation Agency

Cambridgeshire County Council

CIFCO Capital Limited

Diamond Learning Trust

Anglia Ruskin University

Sapientia Education Trust

Big Sky Living

Concertus Design and Property Consultancy Limited

Trinity Hall, Cambridge

College of West Anglia

Boudica Schools Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising Breckland Council in relation to possible offences to be brought against a company following a work place accident which resulted in the death of one of its employees.
  • Advising on a joint instruction multiple Council’s in Norfolk to review their affordable housing obligations and prepare a revised Norfolk Wide standard to improve joint working and streamline obligations.
  • Retained to provide comprehensive legal support in relation to employment law for an expanding Multi-Academy Trust, which currently comprises of 14 schools.

Mills & Reeve LLP

At Mills & Reeve LLP, 'the team works really well together to provide a responsive and professional service'. One client remarks that the firm is 'always responsive and willing to provide advice even with very short notice, and it has a sound understanding of the higher education sector'. The firm has a national multidisciplinary practice of more than 30 partners that provides support to major clients in the education and health sectors, among them The University of Manchester and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The practice is led from Cambridge by head of education and research Gary Attle, who works closely with principal associate in the corporate education team Poppy Short. Partner Natalie Wade in Norwich is a health and care M&A specialist who frequently advises multinational care businesses and specialist private equity houses and investors.

Practice head(s):

Gary Attle

Other key lawyers:

Natalie Wade; Poppy Short; Nicola Brown; Laura Ludlow; Abigail Williams; Emma Tuck; Patrick Gass


‘The team works really well together to provide a responsive and professional service which is tailored to our needs.’

‘We always receive an excellent service from Nicola Brown as the key partner that we work with.’

‘The full team are very good and provide a seamless service from billing to work and transaction completion. I cannot fault their work.’

‘The team at Mills & Reeve which does the work for the university are excellent and cover a very wide range of specialisms, they are always able to run through the casework and work very efficiently at great value for money, I work closely with associate Laura Ludlow and Abigail Williams who are all exceptional and provide a very high standard of work on numerous complex transactions.’

‘Always responsive and willing to provide advice even with very short notice. I find their advice on a range of public sector law to be excellent, the firm has a sound understanding of the higher education sector.’

‘Gary Attle, Emma Tuck, Patrick Gass are excellent in terms of responsiveness, quality of advice provided and all-round client support.’

‘The team has a real depth of expertise in construction and facilities services contracts and provide fantastic support in commercial negotiations, contract drafting and the like.’

Key clients

Academies Enterprise Trust

Arden University

Birmingham City University

Buckinghamshire New University

Cardiff University

Coventry University

Lancaster University

LTE Group

Manchester Metropolitan University

Nottingham Trent University

Sheffield Hallam University

South & City College Birmingham

The University of Birmingham

University of Exeter

University of London

University of Liverpool

The University of Manchester

The University of Nottingham

University of Salford

University of Worcester

North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust


Cleveland Clinic

NHS England

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust

Velindre University NHS Trust

Health Education England

NHS Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group

Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

NHS Property Services

East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

NHS East and North Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group

East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust

Shaw Healthcare (Northants)

Keys Group

Operose Health

Elysium Healthcare

Department of Health and Social Care

UK Health Security Agency

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising Linacre College, Oxford on a donation agreement of £155 million.
  • Advised Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust in connection with negotiations relating to changes to the financing of its QAH PFI project. The transaction involved a £327 million public placement of index-linked wrapped bonds.
  • Advising the UK Health Security Agency on the strategically important National Microbiology Framework launched in 2021.

Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP

Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP

Other key lawyers:

Martyn Robinson; Stephen O’Reilly; Matthew Kelly; Alice Townley-Smith


‘Excellent knowledge of the higher education sector. Wide range of client training and publications on sector-specific issues.’

‘Matthew Kelly is extremely responsive. Excellent knowledge of the sector. Technically very strong, but also a pragmatic style of advice. Alice Townley-Smith has excellent rapport with client team. Very responsive.’

Greenwoods Legal

Greenwoods Legal advises education institutions on a vast ranger of matters including corporate and governance issues, HR, immigration, property development, contracts, regulatory matters and data privacy. Among its clients are several colleges of Cambridge University, including Clare College and Peterhouse College. The firm has discrete teams acting for state and academy schools on the one hand and and independent schools on the other. Its academies schools team frequently assists with the setting up of multi-academy trusts. Partner Joanna Scally leads the education practice, in which senior associate and employment specialist Siobhan Thomson plays a pivotal role.

Practice head(s):

Joanna Scally

Other key lawyers:

Siobhan Thomson


‘We have worked with this firm for many years and they have proven time and again that they can support us meet all the challenges that we face in our sector.’

‘We have worked particularly closely with Claire Banks – she has added a significant amount of value to our partnership approach. Claire is responsive, methodical and detailed in her approach and is attentive to our needs and sympathetic of our sector challenges meaning she is always in tune with what we need and how we need it. Claire in particular has a very customer-focused outlook and through this and her sector understanding deals with our queries and prioritises the work to ensure fees are limited and controlled. This is definitely a personal touch that we value over and above other firms.’

Key clients

Clare College

Peterhouse College

Churchill College

Jesus College

The Diamond Learning Partnership Trust

Bedford Borough Council

Opening Worlds Ltd

Howes Percival LLP

Howes Percival LLP's education and health practice is 'well led and professional in all its dealings, ensuring clear, concise and helpful advice is given, and their proactivity and responsiveness are exemplary'. The firm acts for a growing number of universities and colleges across East Anglia, as well as regional and national care home operators. Land development partner Michaela Henson in Cambridge and, in Norwich, insolvency expert Morris Peacock and healthcare specialist Oliver Pritchard are the practice heads. Also in Norwich, emerging partner talent Nicola Curle frequently handles land disposals, developments and student accommodation projects, and planning specialist Jamie Childs is 'responsive, calm, speedy, easy to contact and proactive'. In Cambridge, Steven Beach assists corporate tenants and landlords, higher education bodies and other public sector clients on property matters.

Practice head(s):

Michaela Henson; Morris Peacock; Oliver Pritchard

Other key lawyers:

Nicola Curle; Jamie Childs; Steven Beach


‘The team is well led and professional in all its dealings, ensuring clear, concise and helpful advice is given and charges are explained. Their proactivity and responsiveness throughout a long process has been exemplary.’

‘Jamie Childs has been our valued partner for over two years of legal wranglings with many complex stakeholders. He has been very responsive, always professional, calm, speedy, easy to contact, proactive and generally a trusted asset to our team. I cannot fault his knowledge or application of the law.’

‘We worked primarily with Jamie Childs. Great technical knowledge, professionalism, easy to work with, availability, and working in consortium with other legal firm.’

‘From the start of the work, Jamie Childs allocated to the project sought to establish himself as a member of our team rather than a stand alone legal adviser. Jamie is extremely knowledgable, and he also had a firm grasp of the complexity of the political environment within which the negotiations took place, and was able to exlain complex legal matters in plain English.’

Key clients

Anchor Care Homes Limited

Anchor Hanover Group

Braintree District Council

Breckland Alliance / Breckland Surgeries Limited

Cambridge University Endowment Fund

Enterprise Retirement Living

E-Surgery / Total Access Health

Girton College, Cambridge

Norfolk & Norwich Association for the Blind

Norse Care Limited

Norwich University of the Arts

South Holland District Council

South Norfolk Healthcare C.I.C

Suffolk County Council

The Insolvency Service

The Official Receivers for England and Wales

University of Cambridge

Work highlights

  • Led on planning obligation negotiations for Suffolk County Council in relation to the development consent order application for Sizewell C. This work involved a particularly novel approach to securing obligations and resulted in planning obligations worth in excess of £200 million in financial and “in-kind” contributions.

JG Poole & Co. LLP

Specialist higher education firm JG Poole & Co. LLP in Ely 'knows the sector inside out and can deal with very complex matters in a very competitive way'. The firm handles major projects for universities and pure education law matters, among recent examples being advice to London Metropolitan University on a tender submission for public funding in respect of a research programme. 'Their HE sector knowledge and expertise is a valuable resource for us to tap into and we enjoy services that draws on this expertise to offer pragmatic but legally sound solutions', say clients of practice head Jason Poole, finance partner Helen Bolton Nand emerging partner talent Katherine Souter. Legal directors Jo Farrington (whose advice is 'of high quality , pragmatic and relevant') and Rebecca Quinn (who is 'simply brilliant and has lots of sector insight') are also recommended.

Practice head(s):

Jason Poole

Other key lawyers:

Helen Bolton; Katherine Souter; Jo Farrington; Rebecca Quinn


‘Very good specialism in education – they know the sector inside out and can deal with very complex matters in a very competitive way. Rebecca Quinn is simply brilliant – has knowledge across a wide range of areas and lots of sector insight which she can bring to any matter she advises on.’

‘Rebecca Quinn – extremely versatile, she can advise on student matters, contracts, disputes, data protection etc. She is very good for large scale projects and internal clients love her.’

‘The team at JG Poole are very responsive and have a good knowledge of the sector.’

‘Rebecca Quinn is super-efficient in turning work around and the advice is always pragmatic, notwithstanding any gaps in the instructions.’

‘We have been instructing J G Poole solicitors for about four years. We continue to make use of their expertise mainly in relation to a wide range matters that relate to our provision of services to students. The range of work covers student conduct and discipline matters, complaints, legal claims by students, including disability related claims, and claims of breach of contract or duty of care. Their HE sector knowledge and expertise is a valuable resource for us to tap into and we enjoy services that draws on this expertise to offer pragmatic but legally sound solutions.’

‘My main contact at JG Poole has been Jo Farrignton. Jo’s services have always been of high quality, pragmatic, relevant, and provided within our required timescales, often at relatively short notice.’

Work highlights

  • Providing a wide range of commercial advice, assistance and contract reviews to London Metropolitan University, highlighting specific key issues and areas of concern for the University.

SEN Legal

SEN Legal in Bury St Edmunds is a boutique practice focused solely on special educational needs for a national client base. ‘Each case is considered very thoroughly and the approach is respectful, professional and detailed‘, remarks one client. Another notes that the firm ‘truly offers a wonderful and personalised approach, with a keen understanding of the complex laws which surround special education needs provision‘. Practice heads Hayley Mason (who has ‘a tremendous ability to turn complex legal processes into simple explanations‘) and Melinda Nettleton (whose ‘no nonsense approach gives clients confidence that they are on the right path‘) are vastly experienced in SEN matters. Senior solicitor Nicole Lee is also recommended.

Practice head(s):

Hayley Mason; Melinda Nettleton

Other key lawyers:

Nicole Lee


‘Each case is considered very thoroughly. Advice is provided regarding strategies to be adopted to achieve the best outcomes for the children and young people concerned and amended as necessary in the light of additonal evidence. The approach is respectful, professional and detailed.’

‘Approachable and knowledgeable.’

‘SEN LEGAL truly offer a wonderful and personalised approach. A keen understanding of the complex laws which surround special education needs provision mean they are able to deliver real, tangible, results. In terms of listening to client, understanding what needs to be delivered and putting the best possible plan forward, SENLEGAL are first class.’

‘Hayley Mason has been incredible to work with. She has a tremendous ability to turn complex, multi step legal processes into a simple explanation. Her energy and enthusiasm for the job is to be absolutely commended. I would not hesitate to recommend the services of SENLEGAL to other parents of SEN children who need support navigating the minefield of getting the right support in place for those who need it most.’

‘Hayley Mason has led my case and been very helpful and friendly. She has sometimes worked long hours and even when unwell to make sure deadlines are met. She is also able to delegate to her team if on holiday or over busy and Nicole Lee has provided strong service in her place at times.’

‘SEN legal promised a robust defense of our autistic daughter’s needs for boarding college. This was necessary to foster a sense of independence. At the end they succeeded in obtaining everything we wanted . The cost was substantially more than we had planned and was first announced. Nevertheless, they were persistant, efficient and had a good and excellent plan. The practice is specialised in special needs children/young people.’

‘We found Melinda Nettleton fabulous. Her experience, advice and support made what was an extremely difficult process for us, much more bearable. If we needed to speak with her directly, she was available, and her no nonsense approach gave us confidence that we were on the right path, regardless of the eventual outcome.’

‘Nicole Lee has been absolutely brilliant for us. She always has time to speak to us or email us if there is anything that we need to know or if she requires something from us. I can always contact her or anyone else dealing with our case. Melinda Nettleton, who formed SEN Legal, is always willing to give her time and she is happy to give us any help that we need. We have valued greatly from their expertise has been very useful in our case, helping our son get the right placement for his needs.’

Stone King LLP

The Cambridge office of Stone King LLP is a key pillar in the firm's national network and is known for the team's 'availability and speed of response, its willingness to offer practical advice when areas are grey or unclear, and its thoroughness'. The firm has more than 30 years’ experience advising state funded schools and colleges, as well as centuries of experience acting for independent schools, having been founded in 1850. Education is the firm's largest practice and it counts Unity Schools Partnership and West Suffolk College among its clients. Roger Inman leads the firm's education sector group, working closely with colleagues in Bath and Leeds, and he is 'keen to respond quickly and thoroughly'. Immigration specialist Julie Moktadir is also recommended.

Practice head(s):

Roger Inman

Other key lawyers:

Julie Moktadir


‘Personal service with a dedicated link person. The training sessions, both on-line and virtual, are useful and ensure we are kept up-to-date with the latest guidance. We know that if ask for support, someone will contact us within 24 hours. The professional partnerships that Stone King have in place with other organisations ensure we have the highest level of support.’

‘Availability and speed of response. Knowledge of the school and the independent school sector.’

‘Willingness to offer practical advice when areas are grey or unclear.’

‘Relationship management is excellent. Thoroughness.’

‘Keen to respond quickly and thoroughly. We have a great relationship.’

Key clients

United Learning

United Church Schools Trust

Unity Schools Partnership


West Suffolk College

Anglian Learning

CAM Trust

Active Learning Trust

Peterborough Diocesan Education Trust

Unity Education Trust

Inspiration Trust

Felsted School

Wycombe Abbey School

The Chelmsford Learning Partnership

Bedford College

Work highlights

  • Advised an Academy Trust on defending a claim of alleged Disability Discrimination in the First tier Tribunal regarding a key topic for Education in 2021: how to assess students for qualifications, especially using evidence created by the Student at home.
  • Advised various multi-phase education groups on governance structures that can optimise the operation of further education-led multi-phase education groups comprising colleges, schools and higher education providers.
  • Provided intensive support to Chelmsford Learning Partnership in defending all stages of upholding Permanent Exclusion involving particular violent facts and complex evidence.

Ashtons Legal

Ashtons Legal, which merged with Steeles Law in 2021, now has a key education partner in its Norwich office. Richard Bailey, who joined as part of the merger, is highly experienced in the region’s education sector, particularly for academy conversion work. He is currently acting for seven multi-academy trusts and has helped 40 schools convert to academy status. He is ‘a great communicator and able to make difficult legal issues understandable for the layperson‘. Property partner Michael Fahy is also recommended.

Practice head(s):

Richard Bailey

Other key lawyers:

Michael Fahy


‘Ashtons legal has provided great service through Richard Bailey helping the school to defend a challenge that was very serious reputationally and extremely time consuming diverting our time from our job of providing the best possible education for our pupils. The work was completed with utmost efficiency and gave our leadership real confidence in defending the situation successfully.’

‘Richard Bailey great communicator and able to make difficult legal issues understandable for the layperson. Great knowledge of the law and able to get the right support from his team if not part of his specialism. Richard is always available and looks to provide the best possible service at all times.’

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP in Cambridge has 'fantastic team with unrivalled knowledge of the law', remarks one client, adding that 'they have formidable expertise in managing complex and sensitive investigations'. Lead partner and employment specialist Hilary Aldred is co-head of the firm's national education practice. She is 'hardworking, brilliantly intelligent and her judgment is second to none'. 'Very knowledgeable and supremely organised' senior associate Sophie Whitbread advises education institutions and charities on legal aspects of their day-to-day management of employees, taking into account the duties of trustees and their additional obligations to the Charity Commission.

Practice head(s):

Hilary Aldred

Other key lawyers:

Sophie Whitbread


‘A fantastic team. Unrivalled knowledge of the law. They are completely dedicated to achieving the best outcomes for clients. They have formidable expertise in managing complex and sensitive investigations.’

‘Hilary Aldred is a truly exceptional lawyer. Hardworking, brilliantly intelligent, her judgement is second to none. Sophie Whitbread is a fantastic lawyer, very knowledgeable, supremely organised.’

‘Very strong and supportive team with excellent coverage across different levels of experience. There is a very strong representation of women in the work I have done with the firm.’

‘Hilary Aldred – very strong in client support and practical advice.’

Key clients

Christ Church, Oxford

Nuffield College

Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Unifrog Limited

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Cambridge Commonwealth European & International Trusts

Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust

The Company of Biologists

Work highlights

  • Advised an Oxbridge college on when to make data breach reports to the Information Commissioners office, which in turn led to the need to make serious Incident reports to the Charity Commission in respect of various breaches of confidentiality.
  • Advised Christ Church on when to make data breach reports to the Information Commissioners office, which in turn led to the need to make serious Incident reports to the Charity Commission in respect of various breaches of confidentiality.
  • Providing day-to-day employment advice to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge in respect of academic and non-academic staff.