Why become a solicitor? Lawyers offer a variety of reasons for their choice of career, ranging from intellectual satisfaction, through security, to, in some very honest cases, wealth.
For Martin Hopkins, however, the answer is perhaps less predictable. It is problem solving.
When clients come through Martin’s door, “it tends to be because they have a problem,” he says.
“It may be the most important problem of their lives, or at least seem so at the time.
“The fact they choose to share that problem with you, puts you in a position of privilege and responsibility.
“By the time they leave, you have already been able to take some of the weight off their shoulders, and perhaps been able to offer the prospect of
achieving a satisfactory outcome.
“That is a source of steady satisfaction.”
Martin, who qualified as a solicitor in 1998, is a partner in Birkett Long.
BL has offices in Colchester, Chelmsford and Basildon, and employs more than 150 people. Its 21 partners offer just about every field of specialist advice. Martin’s speciality is employment law.
He says of this: “It is a political football, very complex, and changing fast. It is always intellectually challenging. ”
Yet for Martin, the real satisfaction is human rather than intellectual. He says: “I am fascinated by people and that is an important element of the way I do my job.
“Clients may take it for granted that you have a firm grasp of the law. What you need to demonstrate, beyond that, is that you have a grasp of people and their problems.”
No law school can teach how to acquire the human touch, but Martin did his module about human nature in a different field – outside catering. He says: “I worked part time for an outside catering company from the age of 15 to 26, and I learnt a lot which has been very useful in the practice of the law.
“You are handling events like weddings, where people are often in a high state of stress. You need to keep the clients on your side, but also the chefs. Good communication and problem solving are at the heart of it, and you learn the importance of listening as well as acting.”
“A perception of empathy and understanding,” according to Martin, is a key reason why “clients choose us, Birkett Long.”
Diplomacy is another vital non-legal skill.
He says: “When they come to you clients are going through important life events – a divorce, a house move, probate.
“That individual thinks they are your most important case, even though you know the firm is dealing with 30 to 40 other cases. They need to be reassured they have your individual attention.
Clients and friends will still sometimes approach him as a guru rather than an employment lawyer.
“They ring you up and say: ‘Martin, this is nothing to do with employment, but what do you think? What’s your take?’ That is always a great compliment.”
At Basildon, Martin is running a business, as well as practising the law.
As an employment specialist, he also has a front seat when it comes to understanding how businesses work.
“I am fascinated by the mechanisms of business,” he says. “I am always learning something new about what makes them work – in some cases, what can go wrong as well as what can go right.”