One of the roles assigned to trainees at Woodfines is filtration. Filtration is the process of handling initial calls, emails or drop-ins from members of the public, where it is not immediately clear which area of law is relevant. My current seat is at the Bedford office, where you tend to get more filtration work than any other. This is because of the office’s location in the centre of a busy town. I can receive up to 15 calls in a day.
The majority of filtrations are telephone calls so it provides a perfect opportunity for me to brush up on my telephone handling skills. Remembering that I am the first contact the potential client has with the firm can be a little scary to begin with but I very quickly settled into a routine. Filtration over the telephone also provides you with an excellent opportunity to gain practice remembering the details required to be able to decide what the relevant area of law is, whether the firm can act and how the individual can be contacted. There are the obvious contact details but don’t forget to ask which one they prefer to be contacted on. It can also get quite specific, for example, if it’s regarding a debt you need to know the value - it may not be worth proceeding as the value of the debt may not make legal proceedings cost effective. Perhaps it is a boundary dispute - then don’t forget to get the name of the other party. There could be a conflict of interest if the firm is already working on their behalf. When I started, I always had a list of the questions in a book and went through them each time. The more I received this type of call the more it came naturally, and now I remember the whole process without any prompts.
There are also drop-in filtrations where the potential client has come to the office to speak to someone. The same rules as above apply with regard to questions and the types of information you need, but now it is face to face. I found that wearing a suit helps build confidence the first couple of times and knowing you are representing the firm gives you another boost. I did a lot of pro-bono work as a student and there is a big difference between meeting clients as a law student and meeting them as trainee. Even if I won’t be assisting with their case, they will take their first perception of the firm’s capabilities from me. If I give the wrong impression they might not come back. I find it’s best to listen to what the future client has to say first of all, then clarify my understanding and finally, I ask any questions I need to ask to fill any gaps in the information I have received so far.
Once I have spoken with the client or met the client, the next step is to decide the relevant person or people at Woodfines who can help. This might not always be obvious as often the information given does not clearly fit within the neat parameters we are used to from studying law at University. Sometimes it will be clear, sometimes it will be not so clear. In the cases where it is not obvious, I do some research on the internet. At Woodfines we have an array of legal databases to access, such as Westlaw, Public Law and Lexis. If that does not help I can ask one of my colleagues for advice or another trainee. Finally, once I know who to contact regarding the matter I need to ensure that I provide all the important detail in the most succinct format.
A big lesson for me was that sometimes there is nothing we can do, either because it is not the correct area of law, there is nothing that can be done within the law, or the client cannot afford advice and is not covered by Legal Aid. I always try to give some website links or basic advice or if I don’t know off the top of my head, promise to do some research and email them some information, so that they never leave Woodfines with a negative opinion of the firm.