Hertfordshire firm Debenhams Ottaway was the first winner of the Law Society’s Excellence in Private Client Practice Award in 2015. Susan Glenholme explains the wealth of benefits winning the award has brought to the business
What benefits has winning the award brought to your firm?
It’s so important for our clients to know that they can trust us. We are often working with people with very significant estates; certainty, discretion and reliability are key. Many of our clients are referrals from existing clients, and having the award is a great way of confirming that we are specialists in this area of law.
The award has also helped to increase our recognition among other law firms, particularly in the London arena, and we have seen an increase in the volume and quality of referrals. The flipside of this is that it has also helped to reinforce the growing recognition that there is real legal expertise outside London, and that clients don’t have to pay London prices to obtain excellent advice.
As a team, we are extremely busy. We are always looking for highly talented lawyers with the right client service skills to work for us. They’re not always easy to find; this award has helped attract the right kind of talent to the firm.
We have been ranked in the top tier of the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners directories for the last three years. This award undoubtedly helps to maintain those rankings.
Why did you decide to put yourselves forward for the award?
As one of the largest private wealth teams in Hertfordshire, we know that we offer a valued service to clients for a competitive price. We take client service very seriously and regularly ask for feedback. 100 per cent of our clients would recommend us to family and friends. We thought this deserved recognition.
We are very active in the local community. We regularly speak on local radio highlighting important issues, such as updating wills and having lasting powers of attorney in place. We hold drop-in sessions and offer flexible appointments to suit our clients’ busy lives. We are also very active in the charity sector. We believe that this enhances the offering that we give to our clients and the local business community, and that this, again, deserved recognition.
What value do you think winning the category can add to someone’s career / practice?
Any good lawyer wants high quality, challenging work. The more we can do to attract clients and referrers with this kind of work, the more we can develop our lawyers into true experts in this area. We have received more complex work, particularly in our trust and probate teams, and deal with more complicated wills, as clients understand that we have the expertise to help them.
We already have a very large and loyal high-net-worth client base, but we have seen an increase in the number of high-profile clients who come to us for our discretion, and appreciate that we are only 20 minutes outside of London!
Do you have any advice for completing the application form?
Don’t leave it to the last minute! Always give yourself plenty of time to complete your submission to give it your best shot.
It was important to speak to other people in the team to get their ideas and brainstorm and share examples. Of course, we had some help from our marketing team to put it all together.
Have candidates expressly mentioned that the award was a reason for applying / joining your firm?
Our win has definitely helped us to continue to build a strong team, both in private client and across the whole firm. Getting the right team in place is essential. Since the win, we have had candidates at all levels (lawyers, trainees and support staff) who mention our win as a key reason for why they were attracted to the role in the first place – they want to work for the best.
Clearly, many people know now about your win – how have you gone about telling clients / the wider public about it?
It was important to let our clients and referrers know about our success, and we did this by email, phone and face to face. The award is a great reinforcement to them that they are receiving the best advice and service from their lawyer.
We sent out a press release to reach the wider public, which received lots of local press coverage and was great in raising our profile. The news was also shared with other members of the St Albans Chamber of Commerce.
Along with our legal directory rankings, this award is often referred to in our communications. Mentioning it in our recruitment campaigns has certainly helped to attract new talent.
If you are thinking about nominating your firm for the 2016 Excellence in Private Practice Award or any other award, nominations are open for this year’s Excellence Awards until 3 June. The awards ceremony will take place on 20 October in London.