Shopping Centre exploits

You would think it was easy to smile at people and hand out leaflets, but oh no. I discovered last week what hard work canvassing is. In a world where Tesco law is just round the corner, marketing and sales are becoming more commonplace in the legal vocabulary. So, conscious that we need to find ways to compete with big brand names, we tried out a marketing project in Crossgates shopping centre, Leeds.

The aim was to increase local brand awareness of Simpson Millar LLP and the range of legal services. I was involved as the focus was on our Will service in particular. With much organisation and efficiency from our marketing team we were all set up with an impressive looking stand, information booklets, lots of freebies to give away and a prize draw.

With all that you’d think the public would flock to the stand and ask me lots of legal questions – in just the first half hour I learnt that it doesn’t work like that.

For starters there’s a general suspicion that there’s a catch. “You don’t get summat for nowt”. And then there’s an understandable reluctance to get sucked in to a lengthy marketing gambit. Add to this that shoppers are there to shop, are busy or intent on getting home and all of a sudden a stand full of goodies behind a grinning lawyer is something to skirt around quickly and avoid.

Many folk used furtive glances to work out what we were about but did not dare make eye contact with me for fear (presumably) that I’d give them the hard sell. I understand why, it takes energy to say no to a persistent salesman and we all share an abhorrence of cold calls.

So, standing still smiling out at the world would not result in a mutual exchange of pleasantries and promotion of our wonderful legal services.

I was forced to be proactive! Fortunately I’m a quick learner. I soon discovered that offering to talk about legal services did not encourage conversation but instead taking a step forward and a polite “Can I interest you in our prize draw?” caused many to stop to find out more. And, there really wasn’t a catch, we really were giving away a DAB radio and anyone could tick the “do not contact me” box on the form.

As soon as the suspicion was allayed then those who wanted to had a chance to talk to me about Wills or other legal stuff. All in all we received a warm reception and our friendly approach was met with good humour throughout. Crossgates shopping centre is called a community shopping centre and for good reason, there was a marvellous atmosphere of a communal meeting place for family and friends.

But what hard work! Being that long on my feet, keeping enthusiastic and pleasant for hours on end was physically draining. So this weekend it’s feet up and then I’m looking forward to getting back behind my desk on Monday!

Many thanks to the whole team for taking a turn (and to those left behind to after the ranch)

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Solicitors vs Will Writers

It surprised me how many people over the last week have asked me if I watched the BBC’s Panorama programme Wills- the final RIP off. Yes, I watched it and throughout the whole 30 minutes it caused a knot in my stomach and anger to rise up from within.

Not anger at the programme makers – I thought the journalism was put together well. But anger in three other directions – at the unregulated Will writers who act quite literally in a criminal manner, at the government for failing to regulate this area of law and at the public for still being duped despite all the consumer rights programmes warning against cowboys of all shapes and sizes.

The programme presented itself as a warning against letting someone who is not legally qualified draw up your Will. It did not go into many details as to why this is a bad thing and I guess that the technical mistakes that occur in poorly drafted Wills would not have made such good viewing.

Instead the cautionary tale focused not on Will Writing but on Probate and poor administration of estates. This occurs particularly when the Will writer persuades their client to appoint them as an Executor.

When it comes to writing Wills and dealing with Probate here’s my opinion of how Solicitors measure up to Will Writers:

Attribute Solicitors vs Will Writers
Legal knowledge Excellent – we have Law degrees and years of training. Good probate solicitors are also accredited with STEP Poor, may have been on a “will writing course” but that doesn’t provide a good legal grounding
Speed Traditionally a bit on the slow side, could be more aware of providing good customer service Not much better
Price Surprisingly good value and not as costly as the public thinks Hidden charges and sales techniques can make the price extortionate
Sales pitch We’re not so good at selling ourselves or our legal services Often with sales backgrounds these guys know how to make a pitch
Insurance Comprehensive ???
Customer service A bit hit and miss at times. However there are many many lawyers out there who genuinely care about providing a good service.
If Panorama’s anything to go by then there’s a high chance of poor service.
Regulated To the eye balls Not at all

There will always be unscrupulous individuals trying to take advantage and in fairness to the Legal Services Board they have said they will fast track regulation in order to put a stop to this. In addition I think that solicitors need to work really hard to change public perception to show that we can be good value for money, approachable and that we generally provide an excellent service.

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Marketing Ploys – a quick rant

The world around us is changing. Social media abounds, HD TV and 3D cinema are becoming common place, TV on demand, Iphones and Ipads… The IT revolution is happening so quickly that I find it hard to keep up. But there are many elements of this process that I thoroughly enjoy and I get sucked in along with everyone else. This in turn is making all of us more aware that we have options as to how we receive information. I’d like to think that we’re becoming more sophisticated in our choices and the way we use the technology around us.

At the same time I hope the world is becoming more environmentally aware (it doesn’t always feel like it). Most of us do our bit to save water, energy, paper and other resources. I’m proud that I’ve pretty much cut out all the paper junk mail that comes through my letterbox (I’m now working on the spam in my inbox) and even reduced the amount of essential paper information by opting for bills and statements by email.

Utility companies and banks can no longer infiltrate my home with unwanted leaflets and mailshots. Or so I thought …

I’d got quite cosy and complacent in my paperless world. Then recently I received a letter from my bank that upon opening made me read twice in disbelief and then laugh out load. Admittedly this is a huge difference from my usual reaction as the only bank letter that gets through my net of “no paper here, please” is the one telling me how much they are charging when I creep over my overdraft limit (fortunately this doesn’t happen often).

This particular letter was nothing to do with overdrafts. No, it was all about marketing.

“Did I know that I had chosen not to receive information from them?”

– Yes! Of course I bloody did!

“Did I know that I was missing out on an opportunity to have updates which could be to my financial advantage?” –

What updates? What financial advantage? I’ve only got a current account that’s in credit briefly then gets bled dry by mortgage payments and bills.

“If I wanted said important information then I should complete the return slip at the bottom of the letter and send it back to them.” Needless to say this has not happened.

How is it that when I tell a company that I don’t want to receive any marketing literature they still manage to find a way of sending it??

Thank you for reading. End of quick rant!

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Happy Yorkshire Day!

I’m a relative newcomer to Yorkshire having been here just 5 years. I quickly fell for Leeds and West Yorkshire – it’s people, cities and landscapes. I’m intending to stay here for a long long time and when the opportunity arises I try to learn what I can about Yorkshire customs, history and dialect.

So Happy Yorkshire Day! This is a day when Yorkshire men and women celebrate their ancient and diverse county. I’ve looked it up in the most reliable reference source I know – yes, Wikipedia. Apparently declarations of integrity and loyalty to Yorkshire have been read out in each of the three Ridings of Yorkshire since Alfred the Great was king.

More recently, from 1975, Yorkshire Day has been celebrated on 1st August. It was of importance in the 1970’s as a protest against changes to local Government boundaries but from what I can see has turned into a right good knees up instead. This year a special symphony been composed by Benjamin Till to be aired for the first time today. You can view it at

I think it’s good to remember where we are from time to time. With that in mind I’m trying to get to grips with the local dialect. I wonder if you can help me.

  • Intitot?
  • Asthagorrit reet?
  • Giuzit
  • It dunt marrer
  • Tintintin
  • Eenose nowt abbaatit
  • If thi ever duz owt fer nowt, mek sure thi duz it fer thi sen.
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Choosing a solicitor

Permit me to make a sweeping generalisation for just a moment – culturally speaking, British folk tend to be far too polite and therefore not pushy enough.

Now, I think politeness is a very good thing but we ought to learn a little confidence and assertiveness when we’re about to make a purchase, and that goes for:

  • a meal out
  • buying a car/sofa/new TV
  • booking a holiday
  • choosing a builder/plumber or indeed a solicitor

I feel it’s important to probe a bit as most people aren’t that forthcoming with their credentials and as I can talk with a little authority on the legal profession I thought I could provide some ideas on how to find a solicitor that suits you and the job you need doing.

First of all here’s my credentials for writing this post – I’ve worked as a solicitor for over 15 years in several very different law firms with many different colleagues. I’ve seen exemplary standards of customer service and some atrocious behaviour that still leaves me feeling angry.

So here’s my top tips –

Personal Recommendation

Just like finding anyone who’s providing a service there’s no substitute for a personal recommendation. If the solicitor has been tried and tested by someone else then the chances are they’ll be alright. Still it’s worth asking a few extra questions before you commit yourself and your money.

It depends on the job

Like anything the amount of checking out you do will depend on the job – conveyancing requires someone competent who works quickly and at a good price, with a family matter such as divorce you definitely need to get on with and trust your solicitor as the working relationship you will have with them is much more personal.

Check them out on the web

Before you even pick up the phone or send an email check out the law firm and the individual solicitor on the internet. The firm’s own website often has profiles of their solicitors and the law society’s website will give you some basic information about when the solicitor qualified and what there specialism is –

Also, there are many accreditation schemes which solicitors can apply to join. To qualify for accreditation the solicitor must pass assessments or exams and this gives an added level of reassurance to you that the solicitor knows what he or she is doing.

For example there are accreditations for Family Law, Personal Injury and also for Wills and Probate solicitors (I’m three quarters of the way through qualifying as a Trust and Estate Practitioner and the exams have really put me through my paces).

The Initial Enquiry

Whether by phone, email or first appointment there needs to be an exchange of information. Obviously you need to let the solicitor know what the job or problem is:

“I need a Will”

“I’m selling my house”

“Can I look after my elderly father’s finances?”

But there should also be a lot of information coming back to you so you can decide whether to use that solicitor or somebody else. In an ideal world the solicitor should volunteer this information without you having to probe but just in case they don’t –

  • Check if they are a solicitor, how long they have been qualified and what’s their specialism (you may have found this out already on the internet).
  • They should give you a clear explanation of the process right from the off and give clear initial advice (if you don’t understand the solicitor on the first contact then it’s unlikely to get any better).
  • They should be clear about price – is it a fixed fee or on hourly rates and what is the likely total cost going to be (although with some legal disputes that’s not always possible to gauge to begin with).

Follow up information

Hopefully the solicitor will offer something by way of a follow up. This might be a phone call to see if you want to go ahead, an email or letter with some info and confirmation of cost or a meeting. Again, if this is not volunteered then you should ask unless of course you are completely unimpressed and don’t want to hear from them again.

I hope this will arm you with a plan of action when choosing a solicitor and I’d be interested to hear any other suggestions to add to this list.

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Thank heavens for Mavis Beacon

Nowadays it amazes me that there could have been a time when I wrote  everything down. In longhand. With a pen!!

That I spent my school days building up my writing speed and neatness  and my early legal career trying to write even faster as I kept up with the  Judge whilst hovering keenly behind Counsel.

But I did – and I was really good at it. My writing muscles were well toned. I could write neat and fast and throw a bit of shorthand in for good measure. Clients and colleagues alike often marvelled at how quickly I could pen an affidavit.

I still have a small callus on my little finger from my hand constantly rubbing paper, and I can still produce a readable inked note when called upon. But pick up my biro less and less (the fountain pen went many decades ago) and I only need to be writing for five minutes or so when I can feel the muscles aching and the whole process starting to slow down (mind you that can be said for many activities nowadays).

For me it wasn’t until the mid 90’s when the home computer invaded my living space but it was swiftly followed by a need to touch type – two finger typing being far too laborious.

So Mavis Beacon entered my life. Hours upon hours of repetitive keystrokes, letters strung together in meaningless combinations. The mini games were fun and a real reward after 30 minutes of qp wo ei ru ie ow pq etc etc etc… But it worked, it really, really worked like no other regime/fad/good intention that I’ve had before or since. And I learnt to touch type and kept practising so I can now type faster than I can write.

Oh, of course I make the odd mistake when typing. The backspace button is my constant friend and I could never live again without spell check.

Where will it eventually lead – will I lose the ability to hold a pen, will my hands become welded to the keyboard? Dear Mavis Beacon, I never thought it would end like this.

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