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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Quotation Marks
The accidental mystery shopper

The accidental mystery shopper

The accidental mystery shopper


Two days before going to press this month, I edited Sue Bramall’s feature on disabled clients’ access to legal offices and services (see page 44). Not an hour later, I took my husband’s elderly parents to their first appointment with a local firm for simple identity checks (for the purpose of reassuring HM Land Registry they are not octogenarian fraudsters).

I was now unintentionally a woman on a mission. An accidental mystery shopper. My in-laws my bona fide means of entry; the offices and the solicitor my targets. From the small, slightly cramped reception area of this heritage building, I appraised the office with critical eyes, looking for indications of sensitivities (or insensitivities) towards people with disabilities. I saw no information relating to disabilities or accessing services. But nor did my in-laws experience any physical barriers despite their frailty, except that the first-floor interview room was out of action which would mean a trek up steep, narrow stairs. Meanwhile, a bespectacled male of around 60 wearing a beanie hat and a coat who I guessed (by his air of authority) was a senior member of the firm came by. He asked if we were being seen to. I said we were. He asked what time our appointment was. He checked his watch and assured me he had overheard the solicitor say she was on her way down. I mentally awarded him 9/10 for client care. So how would the solicitor – a vibrant 40-something blonde – fare? She apologised for the lack of a downstairs room: no mere cursory apology but sincere and concerned. Would my in-laws manage the stairs? she asked. Were they sure? And safely sandwiched between us – my in-laws reached the top without incident.

Our solicitor had established a rapport before we’d even sat down. Her office was small, untidy and posed somewhat of a tripping hazard for the unsuspecting. My in-laws are extremely deaf, she spoke loudly and authoritatively but did not patronise. She ensured they understood what she was doing and why. Afterwards, she shook their hands and said how lovely it was to meet them. They didn’t hear. We got in the car and my mother-in-law commented: “What a lovely lady!” And the costs of the service? At the start of our conversation, she checked we were happy with the costs as quoted (we were). At the conclusion, she said she would not charge for one of the ID checks, leaving £50 safely in my fatherin-law’s pocket. Would I use this firm again? Absolutely. Would I recommend the firm to a person with a disability? That’s a trickier question to answer on the basis of this visit, particularly in view of what Bramall raises in her feature.

So begins our new year with a new focus on diversity – disability. And if you have stories of how you deal with these issues in practice please get in touch with me.