Challenging the Stereotypes of Solicitors


The Law Of... being alright

After the loss of her father, Jennifer Turnbull – Solicitor at Simpson Millar LLP – realised that it was okay to admit vulnerability, even in an industry that typically does not openly admit needing help.

The Law Of... being alright

Below, Jennifer shares her story and explains how the experience has helped her develop a more understanding personality for her clients.

Being Proactive

This article was supposed to be about me getting 10 inches of my hair chopped off to raise money for Macmillan. I did this in March to mark the one year anniversary of my dad passing away. For those who are interested in the hair, it was donated to 'The Little Princess Trust' to make wigs for young children who have lost their hair to cancer, alopecia or other illness.

I say this article was supposed to be about fundraising because when I started to write about the sponsorship and fundraising I realised it wasn’t just about raising money for Macmillan, it was bigger than that - I wanted to remind people about my dad, to feel like I was doing something, and I desperately wanted to keep myself occupied from thinking about the anniversary.

It therefore seemed quite matter of fact to write about a sponsorship when I knew there was more to it. I have been called very matter of fact before, by a lady who had just lost her husband to cancer. The lady was asking me all sorts of questions about my dad, how much pain he was in, whether he had a good GP, the length of his illness – the questions went on and on. I knew she wasn’t really interested in what happened with me, she was trying to process what had happened to her husband and wanted answers.

I answered her questions very politely. I didn’t want to tell her that this wasn't a subject I wanted to talk about to my closest friends, never mind a complete stranger. At the very moment I was beginning to feel proud of myself for helping someone despite it only being a number of weeks since I lost my Dad, she criticised me for being too matter of fact.

That example sums me up though – a people pleaser. I don’t like turning my back on someone who would need my help, which is why I answered the lady’s questions best I could. It is also why I love my job as a Solicitor; I get to help people every day.

Expectations of a Solicitor

As a Solicitor I obviously have to follow the law. The law is defined as a system of rules to regulate the actions of its members, a rule in defining correct procedure or behaviour. You could say the law of bereavement in a profession like mine is to stay strong, not let it affect you, paint a smile on and carry on - at least that’s the impression I had.

I had come across a perception of what a Solicitor should act like in a previous job when I worked for a charity. Although I was a Solicitor, my clients wanted to use a charity because they – rightly or wrongly – assumed a ‘normal’ Solicitor in a regular firm wouldn’t have time for them, they would cost a small fortune and would speak in jargon that they wouldn’t understand. This was the definition of a Lawyer to many people. This horrified me - but it wasn’t new information.

It is not uncommon that people will have this perception of Solicitors especially if they have had a bad experience, know someone who has, or have just never needed to use a Solicitor before.

In this profession I am the rock, the person my clients can rely on, my colleagues can look to for support. When my Dad was ill and then when he passed away I'll be honest, I didn’t know what to do or how it would affect me. How will I be able to do my job? How will I function? Will I turn into a jabbering wreck at the sound of ‘Magic Moments’ by Perry Como (my dad's go-to song after a few pints)? To top it all off my dad told me 'don’t let anything that happens to me affect you at work.'

I was in a quandary. What do I do now?

The days, weeks, months went by. I knew people were waiting for the cracks to appear. Like I was a ticking time bomb and they didn’t know when I was going to go off.

Getting Help

I haven't gone off though, that's because – unbeknown to anyone – I have been speaking to a lady called Elaine for about four months. She is a bereavement counsellor and she has been there to help me process this one-off, life changing event. I would tell myself I was keeping it a secret because it’s a private matter, but in reality the reason I didn’t tell anyone is because I was worried – no, probably more petrified – of what people would think of me. I’m a Solicitor – I’m strong, I know all the answers, I don’t need help from anyone. I didn’t know how or if it would work. I have never experienced this before and as I only have one dad, so I won’t experience this again.

It’s ok to need help; it’s ok to not be ‘matter of fact.’ I am determined to make my dad proud and to make a positive impact on those around me. Yes it was awful experience but why not turn it into a positive? I am now better than ever at supporting people, I can share my experiences and turn them into a positive.

I realised that me portraying an illusion that, at such an awful time in my life, I am untouchable and dare I say it again, matter of fact, is wrong.

So here it is: The law Of... being alright. I was brought up by a workaholic, sociable, funny, determined amazing man I lovingly call my dad. My work ethic is from him, my sense of humour, my dark eyes, and my weird toes!

Yes, I cut my hair off to raise money for Macmillan but I cut my hair for so many more reasons than just fundraising. It was my tool to distract myself, to remind people of my loss, to make my Dad proud.

This article hopefully will show people who I am, why I started my fundraising campaign, and what it meant to me. Above all, I wanted to share the fact that having a chink in the armour isn’t a bad thing; it just means you are a human with emotions. I talk to people a lot about this now and it has honestly been the best thing I have ever done. I’m not saying everyone will deal with things like me, they won’t.

I was wrong to be worried, and - like those clients who had their perception of who Solicitors are - I had a perception about how we behave. Not knowing how to deal with something and asking for some help isn’t a weakness. It is an example of strength of character and a determination to maintain a positive outlook.

And back to the fundraising, the trigger for this article, my target was £100 and my current total is £1,650! Amazing!

Speaking to Professionals at a Time of Need

Emma Pearmaine, Director of Family Services at Simpson Millar LLP says:

“I hope Jennifer’s article gives others the confidence to seek help from professionals at a time of need and not to be embarrassed to do so, knowing that friends, family and colleagues will all be supportive and it isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It also reinforces the message that at Simpson Millar we are all trying to find a way to connect with our people and that they need to know that we are normal people too and understand exactly what they are going through. Our life experiences are our drivers and we work together to make a difference.”

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