Thirty years ago this month…
Exactly 30 years ago this month my husband and I remortgaged our home, and used the money to buy a disused shop in Halton, east Leeds. It was at the end of a row of shops with an empty flat above. The property had formerly been a cobblers shop, and with some help from local tradesmen, we turned it into a solicitor’s office. Perhaps it didn’t look quite as you might imagine a solicitor’s office, but I thought it was very smart.
We painted the outside pillar box red to attract attention. We had a huge white sign saying Solicitors painted on the shop window. Inside at the back, we installed a tiny but functional kitchenette with an equally tiny cloakroom alongside. We partitioned the middle area into two cubicle offices, with a reception and waiting area at the front. I think we got some leaflets printed which we distributed in the area, announcing the arrival of a firm of local solicitors and then, with a secretary/receptionist, I opened the doors. I went out and about introducing myself to all the local businesses and banks, estate agents and so on. I was in my twenties, just married, and a solicitor with my own office. I was loving it!
I managed to attract clients from local people, businesses, and traders on the east side of Leeds, an area I had never visited before in my life. There was a dense mix of privately-owned houses and several council-owned housing estates. The shopping parade was busy and as a rough and ready “rule of thumb” I set myself a target of getting one case a day, reckoning that in that way I should be able to make a profit. I counted a new will or a house purchase as one case. Similarly a debt instruction or a letter in a neighbour dispute. I provided nearly every type of legal service that local people might want and paid off the second mortgage within 18 months. I didn’t deal with crime or child care cases as I didn’t like either of them. I referred those cases to my husband’s offices in central Leeds.
I worked very hard. The office grew and I needed to take on more staff. Converting the upstairs flat into more office space was the obvious answer but the Council wouldn’t grant planning consent. To me it was ridiculous. Of course, I wouldn’t take no for an answer and with the assistance of a barrister who I was friendly with, contested the decision. We both went to the hearing at the Civic Hall, where I ultimately managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
The issue was eventually narrowed down to concerns over additional parking. I suddenly remembered that round the side of our building was a grassy area. I had a copy of the deeds with me, got them out, examined them and proved to the Council that we owned the area, not the Council. I offered to convert the grassy area into parking space, and as a result we got our planning consent and expanded upstairs. I was able take over a converted bedroom as my office and so it was goodbye to the poky cubicle I had been working in downstairs. It was bliss. I even had a view of the street!
Eventually we had to move away, as it had become too small for us. The pillar box red outside gave way to a more corporate navy blue elsewhere.
My barrister friend moved on too. He is now His Hon Judge John Altman, the designated family judge forLondon.
My first little office will be remembered forever, and not just by me and my husband. It features on the magnificent Leeds Millennium Tapestry. It can be seen on the panel entitled “Pro Rege et Lege”. I had learned that the panel was being prepared to celebrate the City ofLeeds, and so I wrote to the organisers suggesting that high street lawyers should be recognised on the legal panel too. They readily agreed, so along with the prestigious office buildings housing the corporate grandees of Leeds, it is possible to see my first ever office too, with its converted shop front painted pillar box red!
Photo of Halton by Michael Taylor via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence
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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.
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