East Leeds Law
Marilyn Stowe enjoys her first big win and makes a special client proud
In the 1980s, one of the most popular shows on television was LA Law. Fast moving, it featured a firm of hot shot West Coast lawyers, many of whom were glamorous women litigating aggressively.
They took no prisoners. Wearing boldly coloured outfits with big shoulder pads and big hair, they never lost a case. I followed their lead from my tiny office in East Leeds.
Out went Laura Ashley dresses and in came brightly coloured outfits with big shoulder pads. And as hair straighteners had not yet been invented, I already had my own big hair.
At 30 years old, I grandly expanded my offices into the flat above my converted shop-turned-office. On the first floor there were two decent sized offices for the conveyancing solicitor and me. There was a small room for a secretary and her desk and chair – but nothing else.
A room was kept empty in case I needed to take on another solicitor. The top floor of the flat was empty except for the photocopier, filing cabinets and forms. It was fantastic. I ordered an imposing desk and chairs, a matching coffee table and the ‘must have’ two settees for my room a la LA Law. I also ordered faux satin curtains to frame the picture window overlooking the pub car park and ordered the same colour fabric for the walls.
My colour scheme for the room was shocking pink. I loved it even though some people found it startling. The settees – used so frequently in the TV show – were rarely used by me because it was difficult to manoeuvre between them and my desk. No matter. Vibrant Los Angeles, as imagined by me, had arrived in East Leeds.
Along with legal aid cases and accident and holiday claims, my first big case came from a businessman in Leeds. He called out of the blue to instruct me in the sale of a trademark owned by his company. It was a daunting instruction but I never turned new work away. The trademark covered household goods and a deal was agreed. He sent me the papers from a top firm of London solicitors.
A meeting was arranged, with clients and lawyers to conclude the deal, at the businessman’s warehouse in Leeds. “A word of advice”, he said. “The purchaser desperately wants this trademark. He isn’t going to walk away, so be tough.” I read the exacting drafts and prepared a simpler form of document to protect my client. I was joined by the businessman’s son at the meeting. We made a good team.
I had dressed boldly and acted aggressively – exactly like the women in LA Law. I waved away their drafts and presented mine. The negotiation lasted the entire day. I accepted none of the major warranties the purchaser’s solicitors were insisting upon.
Eventually, at 6pm the exasperated purchaser turned to his solicitors and said: “I’ve no idea why you are here. I’m going to sign her document and close this deal.” He did just that; his solicitor looking aghast. Work done, we shook hands and they headed back to London.
My client and his son were waiting patiently in his office as we went to join him. He was clearly pleased but was a man of few words. “I heard you were doing good things as a lawyer,” he said as my brother beamed. “I thought I’d give you a try out. Well done. I’m proud of you.” “Thanks Dad”, I said.
In 2013, he sent his final text to me as he battled pancreatic cancer. It said much the same. I treasure it on my phone to this day.
Marilyn Stowe is the retired founder of Stowe Family Law