At Unprecedented we have the opportunity to talk to Victoria Lee, Managing Director at Fetter Lane Legal, she spoke to us about the impact Covid-19 had on her business and what she believes the future looks like.
I hated my law degree. Bristol University wouldn’t let me change to an English degree without restarting the next year, which just wasn’t an option. I can be quite stubborn, and I like to see everything through to a conclusion so I stuck with it and saw it out. Four years later I started a training seat in a private client department, and I finally felt I’d discovered a job I enjoyed.
When I qualified, a colleague and I started a new sector in wealth planning; covering onshore and offshore tax for private clients. I loved it, but then my mother passed away quite suddenly, and I had to face undertaking estate administration for real. My relatively young encounter with immense grief gave me a valuable insight into how to help clients going through the same situation now.
I spent the next decade building up experience and qualifications, specialising more and more in Wills and family relationships involving wealth. I moved away from London and up to Leicestershire and, after making a lot of contacts and meeting some lovely clients, I decided to set up my own business under some new industry regulations which came in to open up the legal industry and improve access to solicitors. I am now fortunate enough to be a fully regulated solicitor, working in my own independent legal services business. It gives me a great deal of flexibility to run my business commercially, but still provide the level of service and expertise expected from a qualified solicitor.
I qualified a few years ago as a Trusts and Estates Practitioner (TEP) which gives me an internationally recognized mark of experience and expertise in my field of Will Preparation. My industry is largely unregulated so any old person can set themselves up as a Will Writer, so it is essential to make clear to prospective clients that not only am I an expert in the area, but I’m also accountable and regulated. I’m also a qualified mediator; I’m quite often called upon by families to negotiate the tricky waters of inheritance!
It means making responsible decisions. It may not be your gut instinct, but with your leadership ‘hat’ on, I find the right decision is usually clear. Leadership involves setting a precedent and setting a standard; you must be the strongest link in the chain. It might not be easy, but anything that is worthwhile rarely is.
I really looked up to my training principal during my training contract; sometimes I wonder ‘What would Clare Archer do?’ I try to combine her approach with my father’s – he was a real risk-taking entrepreneur who had no trouble saying ‘no’ to people! I don’t have quite his fearless approach, but thanks to his success, my ambitions are sky high.
I hope to give aspiring solicitors the confidence and ability to make their own career decisions and only stay in the business if they want to; not because they feel they cannot move anywhere else. A law degree, or a legal qualification, is such a transferable skill to any profession. It reflects genuine hard work and intelligence, with good research skills and an analytical approach. I love mentoring industry entrants; I give a lot of career talks and often unsolicited career advice!
Whilst my business was in its immediate infancy, and only a month before Covid-19 ‘hit’, I cycled off a bridge in Gran Canaria and shattered my spine, most of my ribs, my pelvis, left arm and punctured a lung. In the early morphine-induced days of shock in a busy Spanish public hospital, I put a plea on LinkedIn for understanding from clients and contacts. I was overwhelmed by the response and support. One of my clients had to be held back from getting on a plane! Thankfully, any urgent work was successfully handed to trusted contacts in the industry and the other clients simply supported me and waited for me to recover enough. One of my trusted referrers simply emailed all of the clients he had sent to me and explained the delay for me. Covid-19 was actually a blessing for me as it gave me space and time to recover, and, when I was able to go out and see people, I could do it from the safety of my home office!
Unfortunately, I am in the business of discussing very personal matters with clients. Death, family, grief, potential remarriage and divorce. These do not really lend themselves to a first meeting over a virtual platform. Fortunately, a lot of people have embraced it over the last year, or simply suffered it as a necessary evil in order to achieve their aims, but generally, I think these conversations are best done in person. I have had to advise people on their estates when they have been given a terminal prognosis and I have never actually met them in person. I find this incredibly difficult as I care about all of my clients; mine is a continuing advice service so when you join the family, you become my responsibility.
I was hours away from being put on an air ambulance to fly back to the UK when I heard that the UK hospital was insisting on a Covid test before I boarded. This would have delayed my return by days, after a painful three weeks in a Spanish hospital. The embassy had to get involved in the end, to resolve the situation. It was clear I would be returning to a country in fear of the virus. When I finally returned home it was tough not to hug my friends and family.
I have had to be firm on which work I am happy to take on. Working remotely is sometimes like working with one hand tied behind your back (or one broken arm, as I was in the early days!!) as everything seems to take that bit longer. Combining that with the added pressure of homeschooling meant I had to take the tough decision to focus on my relationships with current clients and referrers rather than reaching out for new business. This has involved turning down any external networking, additional marketing or speaking opportunities as well as direct enquiries unless they came through my existing network.
Once the decision was made to maintain focus on the relationships with clients, rather than the usual will writing transaction that most advisors prefer, it reinforced my unique approach which requires an understanding of your entire estate and family concerns. I won’t work any other way – a Will cannot be made in isolation. I need to know your pet's name, whether you approve of your daughter’s boyfriend and whether you will invest some money in your business next year. This can be quite an unusual way of working, as Wills are often seen as merely a ‘product’ whereas I offer a service which is incredibly personal and bespoke. I keep my clients close and am always available for any concerns on their assets or family issues. I enjoy being part of the regular advisory team for my clients, hand in hand with their financial advisors and accountants.
There is no question that taxes will be high on the agenda for the Government, as part of the means of recouping the gargantuan spending during the pandemic. This will have huge ramifications for most of my clients and we will no doubt need to adjust their succession plans to take account of it. I am currently keeping abreast of the prospective consultations for inheritance tax and have promised to keep all of my clients up to date on news which might affect their estates. Tax increases therefore usually have a positive impact on my sector, as more people want advice and reassurance. Hopefully, given that the pandemic has made us all very conscious of our health, this will also inspire more people to wish to get their affairs in order so they can have peace of mind if the worst happens.