It is difficult for anyone in private practice to talk about winning work for fear of someone else taking the hard-won fruits of their labours. For the benefit of junior lawyers, however, I will share an excerpt from a story that sparked inspiration in me, namely the Sherlock Holmes tale The Adventure of the Resident Patient.

Martin Whitehorn

Martin Whitehorn

Murder must advertise

In this story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (pictured), Holmes and Watson meet a Doctor Percy Trevelyan who talks about the difficulties of trying to launch a specialist medical practice: ‘But the one great stumbling-block lay in my want of capital. As you will readily understand, a specialist who aims high is compelled to start in one of a dozen streets in the Cavendish Square quarter, all of which entail enormous rents and furnishing expenses. Besides this preliminary outlay, he must be prepared to keep himself for some years, and to hire a presentable carriage and horse. To do this was quite beyond my power, and I could only hope that by economy I might in 10 years’ time save enough to enable me to put up my plate.’ 

Conan Doyle

It is important first to give this paragraph some key context regarding the Cavendish Square district of London. One street in that vicinity – Harley Street – became synonymous with specialist doctors due to the number of them with business premises there, in a similar way Fleet Street became associated with newspapers and journalists.

With this in mind, the message in the paragraph can be summarised as follows: to specialise in a practice area at the level of a Harley Street doctor, one must first get premises in or near Harley Street and advertise that specialism, in order to attract the patients needed to make a profitable business out of that specialism.

That one must develop and advertise a specialism where prospective clients will see it in order to get a steady stream of clients for that specialism makes a lot of sense to me. Naturally the message is one we know in some form or other already, but I had never heard this expressed so memorably. This is all the more compelling when we consider that Conan Doyle was a doctor and had a medical practice near Harley Street, so was likely speaking from experience.

Solicitors can consider for themselves how this may be best applied to their practice, but here are few pertinent points to provide inspiration.

Client panels

The location of a business remains important. For example, law firms in England specialising in defendant insurance cases will often have premises on or near Fenchurch Street in London, a favoured location for insurance companies. One junior lawyer emphasises, though, that you must first be on the insurer’s panel of law firms to instruct: ‘Because if you’re not on their panel, the likelihood of you getting instructions is next to nothing. In these circumstances, networking is for when you’re on the panel but not getting the instructions you were hoping for, so you try to increase the work coming to you by charming individuals.

‘If you move firm, you move to one which will still be on your major panel. Firms like mine have targets for how many successful bids they have for work. So if you are looking to win more insurance work, it is worth finding out who the client partners are who foster the relationship, and also find out when bids are made as a means of career progression and winning work.’

Networking groups

In addition to being on a panel, there is networking, often at specialist events. I enjoy European Young Bar Association (EYBA) conferences and feel the referrals aspect is underused on the English end. The EYBA’s definition of a ‘young’ lawyer is anyone under 40 so you get quite senior people.

On this topic, I encourage solicitors to step outside their comfort zone. You don’t know what a networking event will be like until you try it. Start where you can find somewhere to go and do your research.


Naturally, I could not finish this article without talking about having been named a ‘Legal Hero’ by The Law Society last year. Having been recognised for my support of junior and aspiring lawyers along with advocating for neurodivergent adjustments in the profession, I was quickly contacted by a neurodivergent person to assist her with her lease extension: a prime example of the benefits of external recognition.

Paper chaser

To return to The Adventure of the Resident Patient, like many stories of its time junior lawyers will relate to working hard to develop a practice and career. Nowadays these messages are perhaps best abbreviated in the form of ‘Live Your Life’ and ‘Umbrella’; check the lyrics and tell me otherwise. We may face adversity in our graft but it makes a world of difference to have supportive colleagues, good friends and loving family. The tale of many a 19th-century novel has been the struggle of the junior for a secure financial future.

The difference in those stories is that often some inheritance or fortuitous marriage will come along to give a happy ending. In the real world we make our own luck.


Martin Whitehorn is a solicitor at Julie West Solicitors and a national representative for Surrey Junior Lawyers Division