Arriving home from Portugal, where I had been trying to avoid the final run-up to Brexit, I found on the mat a letter from one of those alphabet firms of solicitors. Claiming to practise some 50 or more miles from where I live, the firm was previously unknown to me.
But they had clearly heard of me, because the letter started: ‘Dear James, As we have been holding your will for some time now…’ The letter was signed by someone who described themselves as associate, whatever that may mean nowadays – typist, trainee, the partners’ dog walker?
The signature itself was unreadable and appeared to be what used to be called ‘Roneoed’.
Now this was, of course, completely untrue – the bit about holding the will that is. It is safely tucked away far from their offices. I had never consulted the firm in my life. I looked up the partners online and, so far as I could see, I had never met nor, to my knowledge, heard of any of them.
The same day I had a telephone call from a company (not a firm of solicitors) which had heard I had been in a motor car accident (untrue) and wished to help me out. Both instances seem to be out-and-out touting (synonym for marketing), something which, when I was young, was a serious disciplinary offence for a solicitor.
That apart, assuming the firm genuinely believed they had my will, their filing and security systems must be in serious need of revision. That leaves the ‘Dear James’. The writer had clearly never met me so what right have they to address me in such terms? Is this the sort of chummy approach solicitors should be adopting? What was it Sidney Poitier replied in In the Heat of the Night when asked what he was called at home? ‘They call me Mr Tibbs.’
Many have thought the best form of marketing is by recommendation and of course marketing here is nothing like some of the splendid examples you find in American telephone directories. But I did hear the (probably apocryphal) story of one firm that put a voucher for a free bail application on the back of football programmes.
It may be that, in my old age, I have become ‘Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells’. But this sort of letter does seem to me to be another nail in the myth (to adapt metaphors) that we are a profession and not akin to double glazing salespersons.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitorW