November 1, 2018
A compelling desire to empower people and allow them to access support and justice, coupled with an impressive commercial nous, has seen Sarah Ann Magson develop both her career and the Watson Woodhouse business in tandem.
Since joining the law firm in 2006 as a trainee solicitor, Sarah Ann has gone on to become a director of the business and head of its civil litigation team, overseeing the work of eight departments, many of which she established herself and are now handling major national work.
And as well as the firm’s significant national caseload, Sarah Ann herself has made waves nationally – and not just through her appearance on BBC’s iconic The Apprentice, where she is one of the contestants in the current series, and, at the time of going to print, is still in the running for Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment – with her legal work, acting in a number of landmark cases. Among her highlights are the recent successful challenge to the ‘same roof rule law’ and her current work on behalf of a number of victims of the Medomsley Detention Centre abuse scandal.
“I want to empower people, to give them the voice they may otherwise not have and to help them get the justice they deserve. I have always been motivated by wanting to help people in this way. It can be very intimidating for an individual or individuals to take legal action against a large public body or organisation, so supporting these people to take appropriate legal action is really rewarding,” she says.
It was this approach that saw Sarah Ann, who first joined the prison law team at Watson Woodhouse’s Middlesbrough head office, begin to grow the business and help it diversify from its foundations as a criminal law firm. She established its now highly-respected personal injury department, and then its presence in action against public authorities, while also helping to grow a number of other key practice areas.
She remembers: “Clients would come in who had been to half a dozen other solicitors, they’d been passed from pillar to post trying to find someone to help them but had had the door shut in their face.
“If I can see there has been a wrong, then I’ll try and find a way to get the best resolution for my client.”
Sarah Ann is now head of housing law, employment, debt, personal injury, action against public authorities, civil law, human rights and historic abuse work at Watson Woodhouse, across its offices in her native Middlesbrough, Darlington, Stockton, Berwick Hills, Northallerton and Harrogate, alongside its recently-opened London base.
She has played a central role in the firm’s significant growth, developing her departments into respected names in both the local community and legal world – her housing law team, for example, has quadrupled in size under Sarah Ann’s leadership, working across five offices.
As well as being a successful head of department, Sarah Ann is also nationally-known for her legal work, with her recent success in representing a client from Teesside in challenging the ‘same roof rule law’ – whereby victims of domestic abuse could not claim compensation if they lived with the perpetrator prior to 1979 – making huge waves internationally.
“This really was a landmark ruling and something that I’m very proud to have been part of, and it’s great that these things are being led from the North East. This is now set to give justice and a voice to so many more people, including victims of both physical and sexual abuse, people can now come forward with confidence that they will be listened to and know they can get the support,” she says.
“In the cases from Medomsley Detention Centre, there are people who now have the courage 40 or 50 years after these terrible things happened to them to come forward and speak out. I’m really proud to be able to support them.”
Sarah Ann is a firm believer in instilling confidence and belief in other people, and is a champion of Watson Woodhouse’s commitment to taking on apprentices and employing trainee and junior lawyers.
“I had my daughter when I was 17 but I never thought that a career in law wasn’t for me; as a strong independent female I have always believed you can do whatever you put your mind to, and we should be encouraging other people to take that approach too,” she says.
“When we went to the Court of Appeal to challenge the ‘same roof rule law’, we took two students with us to give them the opportunity to be part of the case. We need to give people these chances and enable them to make things happen.”
In the case of Sarah Ann’s application to The Apprentice, beating competition from 60,000 applicants to be chosen as one of 16 candidates to compete for the chance to become Lord Sugar’s ibusiness partner, it was Watson Woodhouse who adopted the supportive role.
She says: “The team have been so supportive and have encouraged me to realise I should be incredibly proud of what I have done, to be chosen from 60,000 people to get to the last 16 is a huge personal achievement. Whatever happens – you will have to keep watching the show to find out – I am really proud of what I’ve done and hopefully will help to inspire people and show them that you can achieve your dreams and whatever challenges you set yourself.”