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Reception areas are where life happens

Reception areas are where life happens


Going to a solicitors' office can be a scary experience for clients and their pets, explains Russell Conway

How nice, I thought, when my junior partner suggested a makeover of our firm’s reception area. True, it was beginning to look a little frayed around the edges but it only seemed like a year or two since we had redecorated.

I was presented with carpeting samples, catalogues of very corporate reception furniture, and, after gasping at the prices, we sat down to talk about a meaningful budget. Contractors were contracted, furniture ordered, and carpet ‘squares’

were over-acquired.

When completed it looked rather elegant. Restrained carpeting, leather-look chairs and sofas, and we put up a few more pictures of the ‘tasteful’ variety. Pictures can be a bit of an issue.

I once visited a firm in Rotterdam which had rather edgy pictures of people with very few clothes on and sculptures which, to my mind, would have got me into trouble with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The team was pleased they could have a front reception to be proud of and the clients liked the new look, apart from one who dismally said: ‘I suppose you will be putting your prices up to pay for all this!’

But reception can be a difficult place. Things happen there. Within days a client had a seizure. Ambulances were called and treatment given. Our nice new carpet bore the scars of what happened.

Shortly after, a client came in with an elderly Jack Russell dog. We are a dog-friendly office but friendship can be strained with the arrival of an 18-year-old, and extremely incontinent, four-legged companion. I realised that having all those spare carpet tiles was a blessing in disguise.

What else could possibly go wrong? Coming out of my office

I was horrified to see a child tearing strips of the ‘leather-look’ sofa and leaving rather embarrassing-looking white patches. These are difficult moments. After all, the child

was just three or four and his granny did not seem to speak

or understand English. Put frankly, this was something

I simply had to take on the chin. But it nevertheless left me rather annoyed. Who lets their children destroy furniture in a solicitors’ office?

Reception can be a sad place too. We are a high-street firm and often people just drop in with a problem which we are not able

to deal with. Sometimes we are looking at a case where there is no possibility of the client getting legal aid or in other cases the client doesn’t understand how much solicitors cost.

While we do give some free consultations we are also a business. Some clients are astounded that a newly qualified solicitor can charge £150 an

hour. I don’t dare to tell them what I charge. I don’t like disappointment. It’s much

nicer when a client pops in with

a bunch of flowers or a large box of chocolates. Happy clients are what we are striving for.

But the guardian of reception

is Cosmo, my now ageing black Labrador, a stalwart at Oliver Fisher for nearly 11 years. He

sits there, playing with clients’ children and very often the clients themselves. Going into a solicitors’ office is a scary thing – probably scarier than the dentists’ – but being hugged and licked by a large black Labrador makes the world a better place.

Russell Conway is senior partner at Oliver Fisher @Russboy11