Anthony Yates has been a partner at Trowers & Hamlins for 23 years and head of its contentious construction team since 2008, having previously headed up the firm’s litigation department for six years.
Since his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in February 2011, when he was 44 years old, he went on to complete two London Marathons, five Royal Parks Half Marathons (to add to the 22 Marathons completed before diagnosis) and has fundraised over £50,000 for Parkinson’s UK.
On World Parkinson’s Day, I thought it fitting to give a personal account of what it’s like living with the condition and working in the legal sector.
Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world. There is currently no cure but by funding more research into the most promising treatments, Parkinson’s UK is working to change that. In the U.K., around 145,000 people are already living with Parkinson’s.
Every hour, two more people are diagnosed. And it’s not just a diagnosis for older men: it can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or lifestyle. It is such statistics that drive me to raise awareness of an often misunderstood condition.
Being a lawyer brings many challenges, but being a lawyer with Parkinson’s is an entirely different ball game. When I was diagnosed 11 years ago, at first I tried to hide the fact that I had Parkinson’s, but within a year it was obvious something wasn’t right and that I would have to come clean with my fellow partners or the rumours that I had a drink problem would get even worse.
Tremor and rigidity are two of the most commonly recognised symptoms of Parkinson’s, but everyone has a different combination of symptoms. I have more rigidity, so my speech would often be slurred due to the muscles in my face freezing.
I recall appearing before a District Judge in some god forsaken County Court where I was doing the advocacy on a trial and saying to the judge at 9.30 on a Monday morning “apologies if my voice is slurry, it’s not the 10 G&T’s I’ve already drunk but I have Parkinson’s.” Not even a smile as I laughed aloud at my own joke. That was a long day! However, telling the world that I had Parkinson’s was like lifting a huge weight off my shoulders as I no longer felt I needed to pretend anymore and the support I got from my colleagues was incredible.
All of this happened about 10 years ago and through a combination of determination, never accepting defeat, and good humour, here I am still working as a lawyer and still head of Trowers and Hamlins’ contentious construction team.
To say it has been challenging would be an understatement. In 2019 the rigidity was getting so bad I elected to have Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, which consisted of two wires with electrodes on the end being inserted deep into my brain and delivering an electric shock to the parts of my brain that would help control my symptoms. Also, in January 2021, the rigidity had caused my larynx to seize up so that I could not get enough air into my lungs and this led to me having a tracheostomy.
Notwithstanding these little sidewinders that Parkinson’s keeps throwing out, I have generally carried on doing what I like to do which has included playing golf, skiing, playing football, attending the gym most days and working! I have found the mental stimulus of working as a solicitor extremely rewarding and I believe it is second to none in keeping the brain active.
My advice to anyone dealing with this condition is to not see it as a life limiting sentence but just a different phase of your life where you must learn to adapt.