In our 60 second interview series, Citywealth speaks to Ros Bever, national head of family law at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, about meeting client’s raised expectations and how winning is sometimes about compromise.
Tell me about your role.
I’m the national head of family law at Irwin Mitchell, sitting within our Private Wealth division, and I’m also the regional managing partner for our Manchester office. I spend most of my time between the Manchester and London offices. I practise as a solicitor and I lead the national family team, whilst working strategically within our Private Wealth division and the wider firm. I support all of our divisions in our Manchester office, including those who are not lawyers, in our group services teams. I try to support the firm as a whole, as I consider that utilising all of our skills collectively and cohesively leads to a better client and colleague experience.
How has the private client industry changed?
This is a tough (and incredibly broad) question and I will confine it to my own experience as a family law practitioner to an extent, whilst considering the challenge of value for money and best practice/service. I consider that client expectations have changed beyond recognition: everyone demands (and is entitled to) a speedy and comprehensive response to their situation. Along the way, signposting where a client might benefit from the advice which colleagues with expertise in other disciplines/areas provide is crucially important. We no longer operate in silos. Instead, we endeavour to spot where we can assist our clients to achieve the best outcome, with internal and external colleagues becoming involved as quickly and cost effectively as possible. Naturally, this benefits us as professionals but, undoubtedly, it benefits our clients too. In addition, not that long ago, we had an air of respectability and people did not challenge or argue about the advice which we gave, that demand has benefitted us all: on the whole, we are more effective as a consequence and certainly more respectful of our clients’ wishes.
What lessons have you learnt?
Being a better lawyer doesn’t mean that it is always about fighting a case to trial and “winning” (even though I like to) because winning might instead be compromising a case in the best interests of a client. Adopting a collegiate approach is better than being adversarial internally and occasionally, it works externally too, although sadly not always.
Tell us about interesting client instructions.
Every client instruction is interesting because everyone who we see is going through a stressful time and tends to have something interesting to report or mention. The fact that it is always something that could happen to us is interesting in itself; however, those cases with an international element or a trust dimension are testing and stimulating, so too are those where there are needs versus contribution arguments. They all have you perhaps thinking even more carefully. Each case is different and ascertaining what a client wants to achieve at the outset is really very important. We are trained originally to trot out formulaic advice in many ways but flexing style, approach and understanding the client’s objectives is far more important. With the support of colleagues across other disciplines, whether lawyers or other professionals, is a vitally important part of making sure that “interesting client instructions” are not just seen as that. Instead, they are seen as a challenging set of instructions but the core objectives remain the same and all professionals are aligned in their desire to achieve those for the client, regardless of the challenge.
What challenges do your clients face?
For family clients: the sharing of their wealth/ the need to establish what their needs are, the stress associated with dealing with very personal matters, whilst looking too at practical reality. In addition, the cost associated with securing professional advice so as to achieve their objectives. The delay associated with a court based approach (with a huge rise in litigants in person since the abolition of legal aid). The use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms being confined almost always to London. The lack of consistency across the country as regards outcome (although I genuinely think that is changing). The lack of understanding as regards the rights associated with cohabitation (virtually none unless there has been a contribution to property or a child has been born and certain criteria are met). The uncertainty as regards how binding pre or post nuptial agreements are.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role?
Achieving the objectives set by my clients at our first meeting, or, at least, the parameters of those objectives. In addition, having talented recruits who become more talented lawyers than I am. There are lots across our national team.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Whilst I potentially eschew it: put your personal life first as we are all forgotten within a blink of an eye when we retire. A work in progress for many.
What was the last book you’ve read?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Sorry, I did not want to lie.
Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?
I have spent a couple of days in our Chichester office with our colleagues there. It is amazing and the teams there are fabulous. The contrast between our city offices is incredible. I believe that this represents a huge commitment to our clients in the South East, to our Private Wealth brand and division from the firm’s perspective. I could not have felt more welcomed by all of our teams there and they have a fantastically interesting and broad spectrum of work.
How do you relax after a long day?
Honestly, I watch TV and wear scruffy clothes, banter with my teenagers and do the odd spot of baking/ potting herbs. I listen to the Archers too, plus anything Radio 4.