Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Phone a friend

One of the few remaining perks of being learned counsel is that you don't have members of the public approaching you directly to chat about their legal woes. (Unless you do public access work, that is, but even then you're not at risk of being called by just anyone.) The beauty of being a member of a referral profession is that you only really have day to day dealings with solicitors. Sadly, no such filter exists to protect us from friends and relatives. I've lost count of the number of times someone I know has called on me for some free legal advice. Invariably, they begin by saying something like, "I hope you don't mind, but I'm in a bit of a mess and I could really do with some advice, it won't take long..." And then they launch into a long-winded explanation of some legal quandary that's making their life a misery.

This will almost certainly involve an area of law that you know nothing about. If I asked a medical type for his opinion on a broken leg and he replied that he only worked in dermatology, I'd accept it. When it comes to lawyers, however, people think that you should be an expert in all areas of law. If you tell them you don't know anything about, say, wills, they think either that you're lying or that you can't be any good at your job after all. If, unusually, their problem concerns an area you are familiar with, there are still loads of problems. Leaving aside the vast professional conduct issues (direct access, insurance etc...), people never give you a coherent account of what their problem is.

All of this is most annoying when the pest is someone you hardly know, wanting advice without paying for it, but families can be almost as bad. I spent ages on the phone to my cousin over the weekend, alternating between telling him I couldn't advise him and listening to his rambling account of his evil landlord's latest misdeeds. Of course, when I finally relented and agreed to look through the paperwork with him - on a strictly informal basis, mind! - it was obvious he'd inadvertently told me a complete load of rubbish and the situation was entirely different to the one he'd described.

It's not just lawyers who have to put up with this kind of thing. My mother used to be a nurse and was constantly being pestered by people for advice. She got so fed up with it that she told people she'd just met that she worked in the sock department for Bhs. I think I might have to come up with a similar lie...

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Client Care

Those of us whose practice areas demand that we go to court on an almost daily basis spend a fair amount of time dealing with clients. This is, to say the least, a mixed blessing. Some of them are lovely, though they are few and far between. Others, most in fact, are pleasant enough to deal with, even if you wouldn't necessarily choose to spend any more time than necessary with them. A small but significant minority are just horrible. For the uninitiated, ways in which clients can fall into this category include:

1. Smelling
2. Moaning and complaining about things you have no power to do anything about (often something going on in prison) then getting annoyed when you can't fix it
3. Arguing with everything you say
4.Trying to justify what they've done in a really inappropriate way which often includes racist, sexist and/or homophobic comments

Numbers 1 and 4 applied to today's client. Like many people with appalling personal hygiene, he kept insisting on shaking mine and my solicitor's hands (over the last few years, I've noticed that the more a client smells, the more likely they are to want to shake your hand). A good way around this is to constantly carry as many papers and books as possible but today that made the situation even worse. When he held out his hand I indicated my pile of books and gave what I hoped was a rueful "would if I could" look. In response, he leaned in and gave me a smacker on the cheek. It was so sudden and unexpected, I never stood a chance. They never warned me about this on the BVC...