Firstly, a warm welcome to our new colleague, Alexandra Hirst who joined us on 2nd January. The 2nd of January was an auspicious day for Alex for two reasons. Not only did she join the best firm in the land and all the world, (hello City fans) but she also qualified as a Solicitor. Congratulations.
This was a mere 35 years and 33 days after me. Have things changed? Yes they have, for all of us including our Clients. For a start, passing my professional exams and completing my articles (training contract) was not enough in those days. I had still to be vetted by a Law Society committee which I suppose is a bit like the FA’s fit and proper person test today. Neither proved fit for purpose as both I and Vincent Tan were adjudged to be such.
A number of people had kindly tried to calm my pre interview nerves by telling me that the outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion and that it wasn’t merely a formality. Thanks for that. I don’t remember much about the grilling but I certainly remember the two things that saw me through. British snobiness at its best and Poynton, yes, Poynton. One of the committee noticed that I was working in Poynton. Poynton was, apparently, an “outpost” of the Cheshire empire, of which Chester was the jewell in the crown. I suspect that this is the root cause of my dislike of Chester (except The Railway pub) ever since. It may have been the centre of their universe but it certainly wasn’t mine.
I also thought that I was joining ‘a’ profession but soon found out that I had joined what was pompously referred to as “the” profession. Nearly every speaker and solicitor from the floor at every course and lecture repeatedly referred to “the” profession. Every change was resisted as an attack whether or not it benefitted clients. The status quo was all that mattered. Most Solicitors in those days (and for some time to come) seemed only interested in themselves and their (perceived ) status of themselves and I don’t think the word “service” was either used or understood. It was all alien to me and I didn’t like it or them to say the least, so I ignored them as far as possible and just got on with my job.
I don’t know exactly why they acted in this way but I have two theories. Until a few years earlier fees had been based, for Conveyancing at least, on quite a generous fixed scale but that had been abolished well before I qualified. Income was therefore more under pressure and “the profession” was affronted at having to operate in a competitive environment and, frankly, didn’t know how to. Secondly, there were a lot of father and son Solicitors and I suspect that fathers had told their sons about the status they used to enjoy when they were young like country vets or even bank managers. If this sounds fanciful today, watch an episode of Dad’s Army and see the standing that Captain Mainwaring had in the community. He was also Captain not through military service of any sort but through social rank as a respected bank manager.
Thankfully those days are behind us. Today, we are a business in a service industry and we need to operate as such. It is perfectly possible to maintain the highest professional standards whilst delivering a first class consumer experience. Our Clients are entitled to take our qualifications and experience for granted just as we expect chefs in restaurants to be able to cook. It is a given.
What now differentiates us from our competitors is the way in which we deliver that knowledge and experience as a service. We must deliver in a timely, friendly way at a reasonable cost and, if we do, we will be successful and our Clients will be happy. So, over 35 years, an aged, self-centred profession has finally been replaced by a young, modern, customer facing industry. Seventy per cent (70%) of our workforce is now aged 30 or under and “the” is thankfully consigned to history. Alex and all our future new Lawyers now have a profession they can be proud to be part of.