We have several red, white and blue Union flags flying proudly from our offices in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games.
The flags have attracted attention, most of it very positive. Besides one or two grumpy comments in Hale, the flags are making people smile.
Walking into the Harrogate office last week, I saw a lady standing outside looking at the flags. “They look good don’t they?” I said as I passed and she agreed with me. A few minutes later she had walked into reception.
The lady said she had an appointment with a local solicitor in the street but couldn’t remember which one. The receptionist was bemused because the diary showed that it wasn’t with our firm. A solicitor came downstairs to check what was happening and confirmed that the appointment had not been booked with her. It was all rather awkward.
By coincidence I happened to be walking through reception at that very moment. I noted what was happening and introduced myself properly. “Hello I’m Marilyn and I’m the senior partner here. Can I help you?” The lady told me her problem and asked if we could help. “Can we help?” I said laughing, “Of course we can! And fortunately for you, you have found not only the best solicitors in the street, but the best in the country and perhaps the world!”
The lady burst out laughing and relaxed. I went on to have a proper conversation with her, discussed her case in more detail and introduced her to a solicitor who could deal with her problem. I then left them alone to work on the case. Afterwards, she said that she was really glad she’d found us.
Driving home that evening I thought again of my late uncle, who tragically passed away in an air disaster in 1974. He was also a solicitor. Thanks to him, I learned a lot about client care. A criminal lawyer, he ran a very successful firm in Leeds and was only in his early 40s when he died. The majority of his week was spent appearing in the local magistrate courts; charming the magistrates and making them laugh.
He was very approachable and I learnt from him how to communicate with clients from all walks of life. He treated everyone with respect, but most importantly a sense of humour. He took control, but in a kind and respectful way. Even at my young age, working for him during my gap year before I started university, I could see that all of his clients trusted him. In fact, it was through my uncle that I learned how important a sense of humour can be in running a law firm.
Clients are understandably nervous. They are scared of the advice they are going to receive and while they hope for the best, many expect the worst. They certainly don’t want to be in your office, and would rather be anywhere else than sitting in front of you recounting their problems and dreading the process ahead – be it civil, family or criminal.
They used to wait lined up in the reception of my uncle’s office and he would usually keep them waiting, often for an hour or so because he was held up in court. However, they didn’t seem to mind and would sit patiently until he arrived. They knew his skill was worth the wait.
I remember that once a lady had been waiting several hours to see him and my uncle was clearly embarrassed he had been held up so long. He approached the problem in a way I wouldn’t have thought about. He bustled in and ushered her through to his office and before she had the chance to say anything said: “Now come on, don’t keep me waiting…!” She started laughing and made a comment like: “You’re a cheeky one!” The ice was broken and he had defused the situation instantly. The wait was forgotten.
It is this ability to have some fun while interacting in a professional manner that I try to achieve with my own clients. If I hadn’t scored a spectacular own goal with my terrible A-level results, I would never have had my gap year and worked for my uncle. He and my aunt died only a year later, after I had begun my degree. I was fortunate enough to work for him for nearly a year and I learned a great deal from him about the importance of being approachable and treating people kindly, respectfully and with a sense of humour – even when you are under the greatest stress.
This experience taught me never to show pressure or strain and always put the client first. Maybe it’s in the blood, but it’s what I do and it’s what my uncle did before me. I think it’s by far the best way to conduct yourself as a lawyer with your clients.