The Things I Know: Vanessa Ralph, Senior associate, Herbert Smith

- Where did you study?

I took a law degree at Oxford Brookes University.

- What skills did you have when you graduated?

From a legal perspective, the ability to analyse case law and construct an argument. I was a good multi-tasker as well, combining my final year's work with rowing and socialising.

- What attracted you to planning?

I am a not-so-secret transport geek and I was fortunate enough to indulge this passion by obtaining authorisation for transport projects such as Merseytram.

- What did you learn in your first job?

How to pull a good pint.

- What skills have you had to learn over your career?

Tact and diplomacy - it is an ongoing process.

- What or who have been the biggest influences on your career?

My previous and current heads of department, in different ways. The previous for instilling the importance of finding a solution and the current for being prepared to talk a point out. Herbert Smith is the first place I have worked where everyone seems to enjoy talking about planning law.

- What is your career highlight?

I genuinely feel pleased when a client is satisfied, but nothing beats the feeling when an important permission is granted for a scheme such as the Docklands Light Railway extension to Stratford International - especially without a call-in, challenge or appeal.

- What have you learnt outside work that has influenced your career?

Regular exercise keeps you mentally alert, which is helpful in this job. A sense of humour is also essential.

- What further skills do you aim to attain or develop?

Working for a length of time enables me to consolidate what I have learnt and I anticipate further consolidation over the next few years.

- How important is it to keep abreast of developments in allied professions?

Very, both professionally and in terms of looking for common ground at work or social events.

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