Reebok, Cartier and the Bolton Law Society Family Law Conference
Another week, another football stadium! This time, it’s not Wembley but the Reebok Stadium: the home of Bolton Wanderers football team. It is also the venue for the Bolton Law Society Family Law Conference, which I chaired yesterday.
With so much happening within family law right now, I have already found – as I did at the University of Staffordshire Law School earlier this year – that being an audience member at one of these conferences can be a mind-bending exercise. This time, I knew I had some work to do. The varied programme covered a range of subjects relevant to family lawyers. It was a fascinating day, and I was kept on my toes introducing each speaker and moderating sparky debates.
The speaker who made the deepest impression upon me was Joe Egan, a solicitor from Bolton who helped to organise the conference. Joe is the secretary of the Bolton Law Society, and a Law Society council member. He spoke about the future of law firms and the possibility of people without legal qualifications owning firms and making inroads into the legal market. Tesco Law, as it is known, has come about as a result of the Legal Services Act 2007, which is due to come into force in a few months’ time.
Joe has seen a lot during his lengthy and varied career, and has clearly remained true to his roots and beliefs. He said that he went into this profession as a vocation, was unimpressed by the “slicksters” who were after making fast money – and watched as they came and went. What worries him now are the future “Specsavers” of the legal profession: giants of the high street who may try and gobble up the market, against whom small firms will be unable to compete. He alluded to an article I wrote recently for Solicitors Journal, in which I too expressed fears for high street firms.
Looking to Australia, Joe gave us two examples: one law firm that has successfully floated on the stock market there, and another that has not. He examined what I would call the Big Is Beautiful route, and how law firms and venture capitalists could draw upon it to grow a high street brand, cutting out competition. Fixed prices could make such brands particularly attractive to the public. To grow such a brand, however, requires a lot of money and resources that are in finite supply at most high street firms.
But hold on! We don’t just sit back, admit defeat and watch high street firms up and down the country crumble, do we? So I said: “Specsavers doesn’t sell Cartier, Joe”.
What I meant was this. Yes, there is a place for Specsavers. They supply the mass market and lots of people buy from them. But when I need some specs, they aren’t for me. They don’t offer my favourite lines and they aren’t for everyone. I get my glasses from my own optician. I have known him for years, I like him and he has a shop on the very same high street as Specsavers in Harrogate. I stick with him because in my opinion, he is the best at what he does. His service offering and customer service is unmatchable.
At the toughest times of their lives, going through divorce, I believe that most clients are the same. They want the best service available, with personal, tailored advice. Our clients want to be represented by solicitors with experience and talent, who are known for giving the very best of themselves.
I believe that such solicitors will always do well, irrespective of the competition. They aren’t bothered about competing with cheap divorce websites, because solicitors can only ever sell brains, skills, experience and quality. I think that the discerning public know this – and will vote with their feet.
As Joe pointed out, a survey conducted in Liverpool earlier this year found that the majority of people in that city preferred “traditional solicitors” to handle their affairs. When faced with a choice between Tesco, the Co-op, the AA and a traditional law firm, 80 per cent of people chose the latter.
My view, having listened to Joe, is that solicitors shouldn’t fear the Big Boys who are hopeful of grabbing mass market clients with quick-sell marketing. Instead, let’s all keep improving the quality of our services, investing in technology and improving our skills. If we do so, we will not only survive – we will thrive.
Other speakers on the day included Joanne Barnett: one of several feisty Manchester women barristers who spoke. There followed a perceptive look at the newly-introduced Family Procedure Rules by Archna Dawar of Exchange Chambers. Barrister Frances de Navarro – one of my future tips for the top – provided a riveting review of current children law, both private and public.
Susan Deas gave a fighting performance on the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA). Who would want to be against her? Of course we disagreed about what the Supreme Court will ultimately decide to do in the case of Kernott v Jones. No doubt our differences arose because I am a family lawyer, whereas Susan also has a Chancery perspective. The discussion highlighted the current deficiencies for cohabitants who seek a remedy in law.
Solicitor Liz Tait, on behalf of Resolution, spoke eloquently about the benefits of collaborative law for the uninitiated. Chartered accountant Jackie Clifford spoke about business valuations in family law. She was very good, and the usefulness of in-house forensic accountants could not have been made clearer. I’m glad we have our own in house team: it beats me why more firms don’t.
Finally the star of the Manchester family bar, Sally Harrison QC, spoke about prenups – and I was pleased to note that we appear to be in agreement! Neither of us likes the idea of strict prenups becoming law without a safety net.
Many thanks to Joe, to Bolton Law Society and to all the speakers and audience members for a truly tremendous day. Bolton Law Society even ordered me kosher food, which I didn’t ask for! It was all so very much appreciated.
Share this post
Get free family law updates
Marilyn Stowe’s new book: expert advice on all aspects of divorce, for just 99p!
Divorce & Splitting Up by Marilyn Stowe is the essential how-to book for anyone who is getting divorced or splitting up from a partner. Read more >>
"A must buy that really opens your eyes to what is involved if you are considering or going through a divorce." - Amanda Brown
"This will answer your questions in a way that non-lawyers can understand." - Miss P.
"This really has helped me to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and I will come out of it a stronger person." - J
Marilyn Stowe on ITV Daybreak & ITV This Morning
Marilyn’s Thought For The Day
Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.
- Marilyn Stowe on Child maintenance rises loom for non-resident parents
- Kev Hunt on Child maintenance rises loom for non-resident parents
- Dave Smith on Department for Work and Pensions ‘misleading’ on child support
- troy on Post-divorce parenting arrangements increasingly diverse
- troy on Australian Prime Minister declines to support gay marriage
Subscribe & Follow
Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
Contact Stowe Family Law
These downloads accompany Marilyn Stowe's latest book: Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice From a Top Divorce Lawyer. After opening, right click to save to your computer.
For more free downloads, visit the Downloads section.