THE (NOT SO) LONELY LITIGATOR’S CLUB 30: OUR FINAL FOUNDING MEMBER MICHAEL WILLIAMSON: ” THAT ADMIRABLE SOLICITOR FROM CREWKERNE”
This is the last post in this series in its current format. The thirty club members to date are our “founding members”. I started this series so lawyers could share their experiences of working through lockdown. Michael has dealt with a number of problems during the past few months including the merger of his practice whilst undergoing palliative chemotherapy for Stage 4 cancer of the stomach. I have known of Michael’s reputation, and followed his blog “Legalchap” for many years. We are proud to have him as our final founding member.
Founder of Somerset firm, Williamsons and author of the Legalchap blog. “That admirable solicitor from Crewkerne” – Sir Henry Brooke, CFA Test Cases, 2003.
Williamsons’ tenth birthday celebrations were thwarted by the news early last November, following investigations, that I had Stage 4 cancer of the stomach and that surgery was not an option. Palliative chemotherapy followed and I started to prepare for closure by the end of March 2020 if no buyer could be found. Reluctantly, I started to wind down the business and made some redundancies.
I consider myself fortunate to have signed a deal at the end of February for merger with another respected local firm. Three weeks later, we were to find ourselves in lockdown.
With the restraints of distancing etc, the transfer of business has not been as smooth as it might have been and I’m still tidying up loose ends of the old business whilst continuing work on a small caseload as a consultant within the newly merged firm.
This is the rather unusual position from which I consider the questions of a Not So Lonely Litigator….
Where are you working from now?
Home and the office, fairly randomly according to mood, need for access to physical resources and the prevailing level of mayhem within the domestic arena. Fundamentally, I’m very happy in my home office (see photo)
Three months ago, when I still employed two support staff and I had been advised to ‘shield’ because of my chemotherapy treatment, I worked at home almost exclusively only very occasionally visiting the office to deal with a specific task or gather information.
Since my former staff have all left, and where my merger partners have had no immediate need to populate the offices which they agreed to acquire, I can work in isolation there and sometimes that’s helpful. In any event, I’m still tidying up loose ends including deeds and documents that have to be either transferred to the new firm’s offices or returned to clients.
What has been most difficult about working remotely?
Lack of contact with my team, the camaraderie and banter.
We’ve always worked in a relatively small open plan area, though it’s right to say that tucked in ‘my corner’ I’m out of sight and largely earshot. Like any boss worth his or her salt, I can of course hear everything that everybody else is doing!
I’ve always been one for MBWA (managing by walking about) and I’m up and down from my desk throughout the day. Often it’s just to share another joke which I’ll be told is terrible but I take notice of the fact that the two lead complainants have each been telling me this for around 20 years.
When I’m not being grumpy, I’m a sociable type and I do miss being amongst friends. I’m conscious that my time is now limited and I’ve felt cheated of interaction at a point when I wanted to be making the most of life.
What has been your biggest technical challenge?
There hasn’t been one.
On 1 December 2009, when I launched as an unincorporated sole practitioner, I was the only lawyer in the firm and all I could do was litigate in one form or another. Pretty quickly though, I was being asked if I could prepare wills and handle property transactions.
I didn’t have the skills. Nor did I have the physical space then for more people but, above all, there wasn’t enough work in any of these secondary areas to fill five days a week. What I did find was a number of good lawyers who, victims of the crash in 2008, had managed to gain part-time consultancy work and were looking for more.
By and large, these were people who were able and willing to embrace the technology of remote working. The desire to develop such systems was one of the drivers to my own autonomy and we accelerated development of our network and systems to make us more attractive to good lawyers who had resource available but did not wish to travel huge distances to an office.
We came to a position where my lead property lawyer for nine years plus worked always from home on Dartmoor, I had probate lawyers working at various times from other parts of Devon and Somerset whilst my corporate team delivered excellent service from East Sussex and the Isle of Man !
A big key to success, which initially scuppered many firms that had the basic technology in place, was that from the outset we scanned every bit of paper (of any relevance) coming in and saved digital (only) copies of everything going out. The result is that all the information needed to run a file is accessible online, through secure systems.
We always aspired to be paper-free. Some while ago I surrendered to the realisation that it will never quite happen but it’s true to say that we achieved paper-lite!
Is there anything (work wise) that you wish you had with you?
People. See above.
What has been the most helpful thing you’ve learned.
That I can grow a beard. I have previously made only one serious attempt 12 or so years ago and reached the morning of Day 7 before the itching became unbearable. There’s a recent photo on Twitter but one commentator has told me that it should carry a warning!
Do you think this is going to change the way you work in the future?
Part of the explanation is that other forces have already changed my future but more pertinently, we were already doing the stuff that was necessary to get through the crisis. What will feel different is the impact of many others including courts, perhaps, making permanent changes to working practices whether for better or worse.
What is the first thing you are going to do when you are out of lockdown?
Top priority is to get in the car and drive 250 miles to see my elderly parents whom I’ve not seen since the start of the year.
I suppose if that can’t happen during the first few days then another thing I might just do is amble down to town for a beer…