What do you see as the main points that differentiate April King from your competitors?
At April King, the whole client experience is designed around what works for the client. For example, we know some people are very busy – whilst others are nervous about visiting a lawyer. We are happy to visit clients in the comfort of their home and our friendly, no-jargon approach will immediately put them at ease.
We try to avoid simply posting out Wills for our clients to sign where possible as this can be rather stressful for clients who are not lawyers themselves and should not have to navigate through the myriad of formalities. Instead, where it is feasible geographically, we arrange a second appointment to go through the Will and oversee execution. We don’t rush clients – these are important decisions that affect their family’s future – so if a third appointment is desirable, this is arranged. All of this is included in our highly competitive fixed fee structure which gives clients certainty.
We assist clients from every walk of life and advise on estates that range from little in terms of financial value to multi millions of pounds. Regardless of the wealth at stake, our clients typically have very similar concerns. They want to protect their assets for future generations and ensure they are not eaten up by care fees, creditors, divorces or other similar threats. They want things to be sorted so that their children and grandchildren do not have additional stress and worry on their deaths. Rather than offer the standard Mirror Will solution recommended by so many firms, we offer innovative bespoke solutions designed to shelter assets for future generations in a legal and legitimate way. Ultimately we assist the client in creating harmony rather than discord on their death.
We take a wide view of our clients’ circumstances and offer proactive rather than reactive advice. Having more than 25 years of private client experience allows us to take ‘a view from the bridge’. Every client’s circumstances are different – but often family, property, tax and commercial issues become apparent whilst we are taking instructions. Where a client needs specialist advice, we ensure they have the help they need from one of our experienced associates. Where the matter lies outside of our expertise, we have forged close partnerships with a group of select specialist practitioners over the past 25 years, allowing us to refer with complete confidence.
We are keen to educate our clients about other solutions on the market which claim to offer the same protection but in fact put their assets at risk. A common example is the ‘Asset Protection Trust’ – a vehicle used by unscrupulous companies in an attempt to prevent assets being depleted by care fees. Through our information packs, website pages, blogs, newsletters, brochures and talks, we show clients that there is a better way which is accepted under current rules and regulations. Our client-centric jargon-free approach has earned us recognition in the Legal 500 and we were recently finalists for two prestigious awards which has been a great honour. Additionally one of our lawyers, Jen Wiss-Carline, has just been Highly Commended by CILEX. It’s exciting to see the firm and my team receiving the recognition they deserve.
Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?
With people living longer and the rising cost of care, there is a lot more interest in protecting assets from care fees. Sadly, too many people have gone down the Asset Protection Trust route and have been duped out of thousands of pounds. Others have given their home to their children but continued to live in it, hoping it will be ignored in a means test. Local Authorities are severely limited on funding and they are actively chasing people who have sought to deprive themselves of assets this way. I can see a lot of litigation for Asset Protection companies who have peddled these trusts for far too long.
With that, we see a growing interest in legitimate solutions such as those that we offer. We help ensure that our clients only pay for the care that they have received, and not for their spouse’s care. For many clients, this can mean preserving half the value of the family home for their children or grandchildren.
Another growth area is contested Wills. An aging population means that children stand to inherit later in life and elderly parents will sometimes decide that the child already has everything they need. With soaring house price growth, this can make the prospect of challenging a Will or estate for lack of reasonable provision more inviting.
More complex family structures and far more instances of estranged children also fuel challenges to Wills.
Our firm can assist those looking to challenge a Will or estate but we also work hard to minimise the likelihood of a challenge to the Wills we draft for clients ourselves. Where a couple have an estranged child they will often want to disinherit as a punishment for the way the child has treated them. We help clients to see the bigger picture – such as the effect that a challenge might have on the family after their deaths. We offer practical solutions, drawn from our vast range of experience in this area. Our advisors have the ability to ‘push back’ and challenge a client’s perspective rather than simply carrying out instructions, with the aim of putting the client in the strongest possible position.
What’s the main change you’ve made in the association that will benefit clients?
The last few years have seen a phenomenal growth drive. We have gone from just a handful of offices to locations across the country in a relatively short period of time and as a consequence, we’ve had to hire a lot of talented individuals to fill those offices. The benefit to clients is that there’s often a branch of April King not too far away with a knowledgeable lawyer on hand to answer their questions.
We launched an estate agency last year, recognising the natural synergy with our property expertise. We also opened our first shop recently; proudly bringing the April King brand to the high street. In short, recognising how hectic our clients’ busy lives can be, the biggest change we’ve made is giving clients even more ways to connect with us, be it a traditional, pre-arranged office appointment, a home visit, a telephone consultation or a chat over a biscuit and cup of tea at the shop. We’re also running legal surgeries, giving our clients access to an incredible range of legal expertise.
Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?
For sure – one example would be that we hold telephone or Skype conferences with clients that are outside our geographical area. This has allowed us to help more clients than ever before. Some clients really like to have this option as it allows them to fit us into their busy schedules – others like it because they struggle with travel. A home visit is always an option but this isn’t for everyone – some people prefer to talk to us first before inviting us over for a cuppa!
We also have an intensive digital marketing strategy in play, which includes raising awareness of why the basic Mirror Will is so often inadequate for couples and the dangers of solutions such as so-called Asset Protection Trusts. We are using our website, e-newsletter and social media channels extensively to raise awareness over a wider geographical area than was previously possible with local advertising. However, I think its important to look at our client base and appreciate that not all are avid users of social media or the net. Jumping on the technology bandwagon to the exclusion of more traditional marketing methods excludes a significant portion of the population. Our aim is to provide clear, jargon-free guidance from a trusted and reliable source for all.
We’re always looking at new technology that will improve how we work with clients but this has to be right for our clients – intuitive, secure, easy to use and adding value, rather than solutions that are simply convenient for our team. It’s all about the client experience.
Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms – where do you see the association in three years’ time?
The nature of our work means that clients look to us for leadership and direction throughout their lifetime. Quite often we find ourselves advising whole families through the generations and this brings a great sense of satisfaction. To ensure that we provide consistency for clients, it’s incredibly important that we retain our best people and that comes down to our culture. Culture is about what the firm believes in and what it cares about. At April King we’re focused on the client as our number one priority and so we reward those who put clients first and deliver outstanding service. This might be financial reward through our highly competitive salary and bonus schemes, help achieving a career goal or the opportunity to branch out into a niche area of law. We really care about our team and we’re continually working towards making April King the best law firm to work at in the UK.
I believe over the next three years we’ll continue to grow geographically, assisting more clients than ever before – and I envisage that we’ll attract a more diverse client base with a wider range of ages and cultures to reflect our own growth and diversity. We’ve really invested a lot in our staff and I think that will help us continue to attract the best and brightest in the legal industry. I also believe we’ll continue to build strong relationships with other firms – something we’ve done really well over the past few years. Whilst other firms are scrambling around to beat the competition, I’m a firm believer in collaboration and this is something which has really helped our growth. Working with other firms and service providers allows us to bring the very best expertise to the client and allows us to offer our fee earners a wider range of opportunities – it’s a win-win.
Looking forward, I’m also excited about the proposed changes to the SRA handbook and what these will mean for the firm. The proposed changes are more outcome based and client focused, opening up new ways of working that will change the legal landscape and give clients greater access to expert advice.