I met Joanne Major, practice head of Major Family Law, this January and two months to the day, I travelled from Surrey to the North East to meet the rest of the team in person. The occasion was a presentation on law and technology for which we put down our tablets, switched phones to silent and had the benefit of face-to-face communication.
So how does a Surrey-based solicitor fit into the award-winning North East family law team at Major Family Law? ‘Surprisingly well’ is the answer.
Thinking back over my career, it seems that I have the right disposition and experience to expand Major Family Law out of the North East. The firm periodically has clients in the South recommended to them and founder Joanne has been happy to visit ‘The Big Smoke’ from time to time – one such occasion being to collect her award for being Innovative Family Lawyer of the Year.
I joined a Woking firm as a trainee in 1986, becoming its family law partner in 1991.
Legal practice was changing at the time and my thoughts were published as one of two national finalists in the Law 2000 legal writing competition.
I trained as a mediator, setting up a community mediation service for Woking and going on to train as a specialist family mediator to complement my legal work.
My next firm was Hedleys, the shipping firm which had an office in the Surrey village of East Horsley that had been independent for decades, but retained the name.
The Hedleys I joined had a mix of commercial, private client and dispute resolution work. Modern technology had enabled the firm to retain world-wide clients and the owner had brought together a highly skilled team of consultants from Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, all of whom combined their work as solicitors with other roles.
I was brought in to deal with family work, as well as separately working in mediation and undertaking some professional writing. The firm developed a national reputation in parish and town council work and we had clients from County Durham to Devon.
When Hedleys became part of a larger entity, it was run on more inflexible lines. I came to realise that I needed to be part of something different. I see Major Family Law as the right kind of different.
Many professionals become acquainted with people through social media or organisations such as Resolution, which is a network of lawyers committed to non-confrontational divorce, separation and other family problems.
Although we had never met, Joanne and I knew some of the same people and when she was discussing developing the business, my name came up as somebody who might be well suited to Major Family Law.
I ticked a few boxes in that I had experience of working remotely as a consultant, was not a slave to convention, had considerable experience of family law and liked to make a meaningful contribution. As somebody who had spent most of my career ploughing a lone family-law furrow in my respective firms, being part of a team of people that Joanne can trust to adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude whilst upholding professional standards has been the right move.
Location, location, location
Most people seek out legal services through the internet. Word of mouth is also a very good way to attract business, but these days a lot of those words are on social media, so the limited opportunities developed from being known at the ‘19th hole’ are not going to sustain firms.
People want to do business with real people without seeing a need to drop into the offices. It helps that, if necessary, our South East clients can meet me in person, but we do not underestimate the importance that the potential client places on the courtesy of making contact by email or by telephone and for a lot of people, the same device does both.
Potential new clients find Major Family Law on the internet and either email or ring the office, where an experienced support team ‘triage’ the enquiry and pass the contact details to me.
We get some background before I speak to them; sometimes I will meet with them, in a location that has an appropriate level of privacy, but mostly we communicate through email and by phone. As with my previous global clients in Australia or the Far East, using email means that time difference or coincidence of availability is not a problem.
It is good to have the support of other experienced family lawyers and Major Family Law is recognised as a leading specialist. In what I am doing, I believe I can add something worthwhile to that team and the structure has the flexibility to respond to the needs of potential clients.