In my sheltered life I have come across a range of solicitors and even worked in a solicitor’s office one summer, decades ago, and that in itself could have a whole blog …
But yesterday I found another world of solicitors’ offices. No “would you like a coffee?”, or empty plush offices, or secretaries looking helpful. But how may solicitors’ offices have you seen where one whole wall is papered with “thank you” cards?
I went to this asylum solicitor in London with “Hanna”. The reception area is almost completely taken up with boxes and bundles of files, tied up in pink ribbon and clearly confidential documents. The small floor space that was left is occupied by people coming and going and chatting or waiting, in spite of the sign asking people to wait downstairs. “Hanna” was late, as always, but she was unperturbed. The solicitor agreed to see Hanna a bit later and we went to find a coffee. This was not easy as the cafe we choose was being used for filming and there was a queue so we had a seat but no coffee.
We went back to the solicitor to find that there were now three people to see the same man at the same time. Amazingly we were considered to have priority. He (the solicitor) came to reception, shook hands with Hanna and promised to be 2 minutes. 15 minutes later he came to get us and led us through a maze of steps and corridors to his tiny office.
His desk was several files high with papers. While he dealt with Hanna, he constantly answered two telephones, at one time speaking on both at once while also speaking to Hanna. Who said that men can’t multitask? He is clearly very knowledgeable about his area of work as he knew exactly what paperwork the Home Office would want and what would be helpful – e.g. he asked Hanna to get a letter from her church to say that she was a regular attender. He knows that it is important to build up a picture of his young woman as the responsible and engaged-with-the-community person that she is. But our photos were separated and needed to be not separated so we would have to get those redone. When the solicitor wanted to copy some of Hanna’s papers he went off to do it himself and gave her back what she needed. This is obviously how he does not get completely confused about what he is doing – he completes each task there and then.
The wall of thank-you cards is testament to how well he represents his clients but these clients are very vulnerable and rely on him and his colleagues for their very survival in Britain. While I am used to a very different solicitor experience, this was very amazing, sobering and heartening – all at once. This office provides a valuable service to a community who are often very chaotic because of life circumstances and so the apparent chaotic nature of the service is probably helpful. People drop in and get to have a quick word with their solicitor and all the clients have the solicitor’s mobile number (probably because of lack of staff rather than any wish to be particularly accessible to clients).