When people ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m a lawyer, I get a mix of reactions [and yes, I’ve heard all those horrible lawyer jokes!]. People often have a misconception of what I do on a daily basis – it certainly doesn’t involve wearing wigs and gowns (I keep that sort of thing for the legendary Berwins Christmas party – see below for a picture of the firm’s FD and MD at this year’s bash).
So what I have been up this week?
Well, Monday was not a typical Monday, as it was a bank holiday, and I was lucky enough to be cycling through Madrid with my husband John in 31®C heat. We had to stop for regular tapas in local hostelries to ensure we were sufficiently hydrated…
It was back to earth with a bump on Tuesday. Monday mornings, or in this case a Tuesday, are always busy as clients will often ring you first thing if they’ve been anxious over the weekend or if something has happened over the weekend. So the first part of the day is dealt with answering voicemails and returning calls.
I then had a client meeting to sign a Will. This particular client had taken just over a year since our first meeting to come to sign her Will. Some people are able to get Wills signed within a few days of them being drafted, but others do take longer. This was a particularly rewarding piece of work as the Will was very bespoke and we went through 5 versions to ensure the client was completely happy with it. She also took the trouble to speak to her Executors and Trustees about her wishes and show them the draft Will to ensure they understood what she was trying to achieve and only once all queries were answered were we ready to sign.
I then had another 2 meetings with new clients. One older couple wanted to update their Wills – which were last updated in 1998 – I usually recommend that they are reviewed slightly more regularly than that!
My next client had, unfortunately, fallen out with one of his children and wanted to make a new Will leaving everything to his other child. Naturally he was quite upset about the state of affairs and found the whole prospect of making a Will quite emotional. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon situation and I was able to advise him about the various steps he could take to ensure his disinherited child would not have access to his estate. We also talked about how he could leave money to his grandchildren in trust until they were 21, so that his disinherited child would not be able to access their funds.
Tuesday also was our monthly staff meeting, where we share news with everyone about what’s happening, and our plans moving forward. As the firm’s Finance Director I also share news about the firm’s financial performance to ensure we all know where we are going and what is expected of us – we all play a hugely important role in making Berwins what it is and we are happy to share information with the firm as we value everyone’s contributions.
On Wednesday I had a meeting with a bank manager who holds funds for one of my clients. This client is unable to manage her money herself as she has severe dementia, and the Court of Protection appointed me to manage her money on her behalf. We have recently sold her property and are in the process of investing the sale proceeds to ensure she can stay in the fabulous care home in Harrogate that she currently lives in for the rest of her life. Looking after someone else’s money is a rewarding privilege and I take this duty very seriously.
Later on Wednesday I had another meeting with some financial advisors looking at the issues we face when dealing with someone’s estate after their death – and in particular how to cope when global markets are so volatile. We work closely with financial advisors and accountants on each of our matters to share expertise and get the best outcome for our clients.
Thursday is my regular working from home day. After a number of meetings in the week I find it enormously useful to have some quiet time set aside to actually deal with client work – my agenda is to draft some trust documents to mitigate against inheritance tax. I’m then working on an estate of a lady who died without a Will. She was unmarried and left various nieces and nephews who will inherit her estate – but they all live abroad. It’s a time consuming process liaising with the various beneficiaries - email is a fantastic tool but I do still need them to prove their identity, especially when cyber fraud is so prevalent these days. The estate is worth about £1m and so it’s important to get it right!
Friday sees some more new clients coming in – they want to simplify their existing Wills which were originally made elsewhere. Apparently they’re being charged by their Will Writers for storing their Wills each year! We don’t charge for this at Berwins. Their current Wills are also 17 pages long – most of which is unnecessary jargon. I will be able to produce Wills with the same legal content in 1 page – much more comprehensible for the clients and much neater.
So that’s me – lots of meetings scheduled and no doubt I’ll have some emergency unscheduled meetings thrown in too! In between those I will actually do some legal work (!) and then answer the unexpected phone calls and deal with the emails – I probably receive about 150 a day. Then its home for the weekend to see my husband, 3 sons and dog – and perhaps time for me to don my wig and gown!
Written by Julie Jewers of Berwins Solicitors.