It’s been a busy week in the media for me, topped by two fantastic short listings in the Law Society’s Excellence Awards – me for Legal Business Woman of the Year and the firm for Excellence in Pro Bono. The reason I’m so thrilled is because the panel of judges is very prestigious and being shortlisted is a great honour, even if, given the calibre of the other entrants, I don’t hold out much hope of winning. But even so, it’s a welcome relief to bask in a little glory, in the midst of a relentless job running a growing law firm across several offices in the country.
This week three new lawyers have agreed to join us. We are expanding our communications team too and every office is reporting growth, while at the same time, we continue to offer our pro bono legal clinic everywhere. Every one of our fee earners takes part in this initiative, including me. It’s part of our ethos and long may it stay that way.
It’s not easy managing a firm, because running a business is something lawyers aren’t trained to do. But I admit, I had some help. Both my parents passed away this January, and it was they who decided I had what it takes to become a lawyer, when I was just 6 or 7. It was my mum who taught me about the value of pro bono – she worked as a volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau for many years – and it was my father who taught me how to run a business. I’m pretty glad I learned from them, and took their advice.
When I was a trainee I used to spend most of my lunch times with my father and his co director at their business, Morris and Lewis (Leeds) Ltd. They ran a wholesale business which grew eventually to include importing and exporting goods, including a pan company which traded ironically as Judge pans. The logo was of a wig wearing judge. The pans were made in a factory in Portugal and exported worldwide. Later, when qualified, I did get involved in selling the brand.
Those lunch times spent with my father and his co director were times when I certainly learned a lot, without really appreciating I was doing so. I look back now of course with the wisdom of a more mature woman, and I smile. I used to hear funny stories of their customers and how they used to deal with everyone. It was very rare indeed that they would ever need to litigate – they handled everything with a sense of humour and great charm. Deals were done on a handshake but they still ran a tight ship, and it was profitable. They had the confidence of their bankers throughout. I remember when I was a student stranded in Rome, my father’s bank manager opened the bank on a Saturday to wire me some money, such was the respect he had for my parents.
It was through them both that I learned about treating people as equals and at the same time, how to run a business – and I have never forgotten either lesson.
So, as I see myself, from my beautiful office in Gray’s Inn, quoted in today’s Times, and appearing on BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester as an expert commentator, while readying myself shortly to see a client on a pro bono basis, I think back to the values and advice I received from my parents. Their wisdom has enabled me to grow my firm from a converted cobblers shop in East Leeds to Britain’s largest family law firm.
I would give anything and everything to be able to thank them. I hope with all my heart that they know anyhow.