Private Client Awards: Tips for prospective entrants
Scott Devine, Policy and Communications Executive, STEP Worldwide.
As a member of the Policy and Communications team at STEP Head Office,
I was among the more than 650 professionals in trusts, estates and
private client work who came together at the London Hilton Park
Lane in October to celebrate excellence and innovation in the trust
and estates industry at the STEP Private Client Awards 2010/11.
Our annual Awards highlight excellence among private client solicitors/attorneys,
accountants, barristers, bankers, trust managers and financial advisors.
This year’s awards were presented by Scottish impressionist,
playwright and comedian, Rory Bremner whose comedic portrayal of
politicians and celebrities was, as always, top drawer, and had
all in attendance literally rolling in the aisles.
The Awards are judged by a panel of 16 judges supported by a panel
of experts which included over 100 industry professionals worldwide.
One question which is often asked of the team at STEP is: ‘How
does one make a winning submission for a STEP Private Client Award?’
Given the frequency with which this is asked of myself and my colleagues,
I decided to ask Awards Secretary Keith Johnston to provide me with
some guidance for prospective entrants.
Keith began by saying that entries to the STEP Private Client Awards
are growing in number every year and that he is often asked what
makes an entry stand out. The advice he gives in this article is
drawn from many years of reviewing submissions and knowing what
the judges like and what they do not. In doing so he wanted to make
it clear that he is not making any reference to any individual entry,
but rather making more general comments.
Firstly he directed entrants to the criteria used for winners. He
said it is surprising how many entrants do not seem to have read
the criteria closely. The general criteria for entries were re-jigged
for 2010/11 so that there is now more of a focus on excellence,
particularly in relation to client service. In previous years ‘excellence
and innovation’ were given equal billing. But it was agreed
that, as it is possible to be excellent without being innovative,
so we should reflect this in the criteria. Innovation remains important
of course, but it is now no longer essential.
STEP’s emphasis is really on client service and, in this case,
the ‘client’ in ‘client service’ is equally
the advisor as well as his or her client (the wealthy entrepreneur
for example), so entrants would be well advised to demonstrate excellence
on both counts. Any submission should be tailored so that it touches
upon all the criteria and entrants will want to expand on those
areas where they feel they are especially strong. Although we do
not ask that entrants fill in a form, they might consider including
a shorthand version of the headings we use in the criteria as part
of their submission. This will make the submission more readable
for judges who have to peruse over 150+ entries.
The judges generally object to language which makes broad points
about a company and which does not relate to excellence as expressed
in the criteria. Examples of the total number of staff (as opposed
to their quality), the turnover or profitability are generally not
well received. ‘Flowery’ language, which appears to
sing the praises of a company without giving concrete examples,
is dismissed as ‘being written by the marketing department’;
perhaps an unfair slur on any competent marketing department! Nevertheless,
it appears, after speaking with Keith, that the best entries are
written by trust and estate practitioners working with their marketing
teams, rather than the marketing teams taking the lead. In Keith’s
view, reference to other awards is of limited value and he believes
it has alienated as many judges as it has impressed.
Finally there is some guidance that seems so straightforward that,
were it not for the fact that so many entrants get this wrong, we
would hesitate to give. For example, the word limit for submissions
is 1,000 words and the judges are very strict on this matter. Good
entries have been refused in the past purely through this oversight,
as well as for spelling and grammatical errors. Ideally the 1,000
word limit should include references from third-parties, especially
other advisors, but these should be used sparingly.
I hope that this insight into the judging process provides prospective
entrants with some useful directions. If you are making a submission
for next year’s STEP Private Client Awards (nominations open
1 March 2011), I wish you the very best of luck and I hope to see
COUNCIL LAUNCHES PUBLIC ACCESS COURSE
Lodder QC, Chairman-elect of the Bar Council, which represents barristers
in England and Wales, will launch Member Services’ new Public
Access training programme on Thursday 25 November at St Johns Buildings
the amendment of the Public Access Rules on 31 March 2010, members
of the public are, in many circumstances, able to directly instruct
a barrister who has completed an approved training course. The introduction
of the Bar Council’s own Public Access course seeks to raise
the quality of training for barristers, which will ultimately improve
services for consumers.
Public Access course will develop a strong understanding of the
applicable rules and help to identify when barristers should accept
instructions from a lay client, or their intermediary. The course
will address client care and communication skills, particularly
focussing on how Public Access works for potential clients.
Lodder QC, Chairman-elect of the Bar Council, said:
changes have enabled members of the public to reduce their legal
costs by instructing barristers direct. This will be of particular
value in these difficult economic times, and the Bar Council is
committed to ensuring that a wider section of barristers are qualified
to accept Public Access instruction, and are properly equipped with
training and knowledge to provide top quality client care.”
Living here in New Hampshire the “Live free or die”
State the machinations of the UK legal system are remote but nevertheless
Clementi Report seems to herald a sea change of great significance
to the practice of the law, Mr. Stephen Hockman QCs article
in The Barrister magazine raises a number of issues about independence
of the bar. Living here in the USA I have had time over the
last few years to assess what a fused profession is like, I
have to tell you it isn’t all that attractive.
Many years ago I was active in promoting fusion to some extent
at the English Bar; I have however mended my ways and can now
clearly see the error of my ways. Fused professions have their
points but there are many demerits to the idea that need to
be very carefully considered. The Bar Standards Board has metaphorically
thrown a wrench (sorry a spanner) into the works by recommending
the bar should be able to take up Legal Disciplinary Practice
(LPD) structures, in short corporate legal firms rather than
independent members of the bar in chambers, this idea seems
to me a direct invitation to demolish centuries of accepted
practice for no great gain to the public. To me the vice in
all this is the creation of just another means of enriching
the profession, that is easy to understand but I doubt the public
will be better served, the fees will go up, after all the legal
profession is a monopoly and as such will tend to charge what
the market will bear, I don’t for one moment believe the
blandishments of economies of scale.
So what is really going on? The target is the Bar, an independent
institution that has a tradition of serving the public with
a source of independent practitioners who, along with a right
to choose (Cab Rank principle) have been a target of progressive
political concern for years. Abolition of wigs, let alone the
new strange judicial robes, is a symbol of such desire to eliminate
firstly the symbolism of our legal profession of advocacy and
secondly, more importantly, its independence, the real objective
in all this flummery.
Am I being excessively paranoiac about all this? I don’t
think so, the progressive mind seeks a tidy unified profession
and all these weird rules and moves are a desire to achieve
that objective, a unified legal profession and a more controllable
one. The unintended consequences of these designs and machinations
are never fully ventilated of even understood.
Over here in the United States the profession is unified, the
standards of advocacy, often displayed on TV every day, are
often embarrassing. The merit of the UK system is that barristers
are selected in a near Darwinian manner by their ability to
survive devoid of direct access, and it for the most part, works!
We are critiqued by out solicitor brethren and rightly so, many
of whom have years of seeing us at work and know a good one
when they see one. Over here the big law firms don’t allow
juniors out to fly for years, that isn’t a good thing,
experience is everything at the bar. The more years you do it
the better you become or you leave the profession. The problem
here is every lawyer has a right to be heard and some take it
up irrespective of their skills and it shows. There are plenty
of fine advocates over here but access to them is expensive
and limited, there are however, too many far from effective
practitioners plying their trade. The solicitors in the UK are
at least a filter to limit grossly incompetent lawyers in the
court room. Here hiring a turkey, irrespective of Thanks Giving,
is an all too often prospect for the benighted client.
A real cause for concern is eroding the sole practitioner status,
such action will not improve the quality of advocacy provided
to the public. I note the references to the cab rank principle;
I perceive a sense of resignation about this concept a ho hum
approach that it will have to be considered but we will just
have to put up with its demise, though no one wants to put it
quite that starkly. I have to warn you that the cab rank principle,
intimately connected with the independence of the bar, is essential
more so than many understand or recognize. If there is no cab
rank where is the independence of the bar? Gone!
LPDs will make it easier for less than talented lawyers to practice
and survive who will nevertheless feel free to venture into
court to offer a lack lustre service to their clients; it happens
here and shouldn’t be exported back to the old country.
The divided profession has a purpose, there are at least 80,000
solicitors out there and about 10,000 barristers at the most,
the ratio is about right to permit access to advocacy for all,
not a feature here in the US of A. There are lawyers here who
brag that they have never lost a case, the reason is easy to
understand, they pick and choose their cases making such assertions
possible. Most of us recall being briefed on a number of turkey
cases that were supposedly dead cert losers, nevertheless they
were won, here such cases would fall to be represented by inexperienced
public defenders or worse still there would be no defence at
all after all there would be no money in it. Pro bono won’t
cut it out in the sticks either.
In conclusion removing the independent status of the barrister
will be detrimental, LPDs will favour the practitioners, I don’t
believe the public will be better served, others might disagree,
so be it. Experience here in the USA doesn’t bear out
that the unified profession has much to offer in improving legal
access or advocacy services. The public perception is that the
professions are guilty of guild socialism at best and operate
to benefit themselves first; LDPs will probably confirm that
idea. There is a simple objective in all this a fused profession,
it doesn’t seem to me to be good move. Acceptance of increased
regulation never does much good only increases costs and fees
for next to no benefit, adding LPDs into the mix won’t
help. Once again the public will be the losers. Do what you
will, fusion by the back door is afoot that is what is apparent
to me. Am I wrong?
Howard R Gray BSc(Est Man) MRICS Dip Law
Barrister at Law and Chartered Surveyor
99 Old Brookline Road
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