Flying the flag for client care

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 and I wrote about him recently. 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.

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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3 comments

DT - March 26, 2012 at 3:46pm

I think the way one treats clients says a great deal about our values and integrity as people. I have always tried to treat people (clients, people in shops, the postman, anybody) how I would like to be treated myself, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. My parents were obsessed with manners and I’m glad that they were.

My training principal had many vulnerable mental health clients and to see him with them was breathtaking. He would walk down the wards and was greeted like a celebrity by many. They’d Hi-5 him, shake his hand, pat him on the back and you could tell by some of the cards he received that he’d made a massive difference to their lives. I think his particular skill was his humanity. Yes, he complied with all of the SRA rules on client care, but he also never allowed stuffiness to get in the way and ensured that he always gave 100% and tailored his questions and approach to fit the needs of the client. His motto was, ‘The client comes first’ and he lived and breathed it. Few of his clients were easy which made his effectiveness all the more impressive.

I’m glad that you’re flying the flag – I don’t think as a nation, we do it often enough actually.

In the past, I have worked with people who frowned upon the flying of the Union Flag and St George’s Cross, because they thought that they’d been adopted by the NF and EDL. I disagree, I’m hugely patriotic and think that we should fly the flag, not just for big events, but all the time.

I’m married to a German and they have a very different perception of flag-flying. Only recently has it become generally socially acceptable to fly the German flag at sporting events and such like which I find bizarre.

Older members of our German family were really surprised at the flag being so feely flown by many of the younger German patrons in German stadiums when Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup. Generally, post WWII, Germans have always shied away from flying the flag, as flags were used to symbolise so many negative things, not so many years ago.

I think all nations should be proud to fly their flag!

DT

DT - March 26, 2012 at 4:05pm

The difference between a Union Jack and a Union Flag is subtle but significant.

The Union Flag is the name of the flag flown from land. It can only be called Union Jack when it’s being flown off a Jack Staff on a RN vessel / at sea, or so I once read!

Marilyn Stowe - March 26, 2012 at 4:58pm

Many thanks, comments duly noted!
The red white and blue looks great especially on a sunny day like today. It’s very cheering!
Marilyn

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