An Interview with Louise Fletcher: Operations Team

challenges facing the legal sector

Louise Fletcher joined the Recovery First in early October 2020 to strengthen the operations team.

Based in Manchester, Louise brings with her 26 years of legal cashiering expertise and an extensive knowledge of costs. Having worked for both solicitor and insolvency practices, Louise has a detailed understanding of not only the rules and regulations surrounding law firm accounts, but also the realities and practicalities of applying them.

We talked to Lou, as she is known to her colleagues, to find out a bit more about her:

What was your first ever job?

My first ever job was actually nothing to do with the legal sector – I trained as a beauty therapist when I left school and my first job was as a trainee therapist at a health and fitness club near to where I live.

So how did you get into the legal sector?

When I left college, there was no such thing as the minimum wage and I found myself working 60 hours per week as a beauty therapist for very little money. My uncle owns an accountancy firm and he desperately needed a receptionist so he offered me the role, “until I could find something better”. He shared his offices with a firm of solicitors. One day, I offered to help out when their cashier was sick and I found that I loved the work. I never looked back!

What were you doing prior to joining Recovery First?

Prior to joining Recovery First, I was Head of Accounts at Mellor Hargreaves Solicitors for 20 years. Unfortunately, Mellor Hargreaves went into administration back in 2017. Recovery First actually dealt with the movement of the live client files and it was the first time that I heard about Sally and her team.

I was asked to stay on by the Administrators to perform a proper closure and tidy up all the loose ends. I’d been at Mellor Hargreaves for so long, it felt like my baby – and I couldn’t leave it until I’d made sure it was all ok!

As the work reduced, the Administrators asked me to consult on some other solicitors practices that they were dealing with – and it gave me a valuable insight into how other solicitors firms operate.

 

How does what you have done previously support you in your new role with Recovery First?

As part of my cashiering role, I have always been involved with client files from the point of case settlement to the receipt of final costs. It makes sense to me that costs negotiations are handled by a good cashier, leaving a fee earner free to progress other cases to settlement. And as a cashier I think you have more incentive to push the costs forward…

My role with Recovery First is very similar – chasing costs on behalf of both donor and panel firms and making sure that any costs received are split fairly and quickly.

 

What would you say is the biggest challenge to the accounts team at a law firm?

I think one of the biggest challenges is probably to try and recruit proactive staff who appreciate the importance of their role and are keen to work as part of a team and deal with a variety of tasks. I’ve always found it really hard to recruit good staff, so when you find that hidden gem – hold on tight!

 

What is the biggest difference you think a proactive cashier can bring to a law firm?

A proactive cashier can make a huge difference in the way an accounts department operates. From putting procedures in place that make certain tasks quicker and more streamlined, to knowing exactly what funds are needed when and actively chasing to bring the costs in. It’s all about reading a situation and seeing what needs to be done – and then getting it done!

I think a proactive cashier can be the difference between a firm merely surviving or thriving.

 

What is the one bit of advice that you would give any legal cashier?

There are probably two pieces of advice that I would give to any legal cashier.

The first one would be to know your stuff inside out. Take time to learn both good standard cashier practices and the practices and procedures that your firm has put in place. Understanding is key.

The second would be to question any financial decisions that you think are wrong for your practice (in a respectful way, obviously!) Go with your gut instinct and if you feel that something will not work for your firm, speak up. Cashiers have a unique insight into the financial workings of a firm and may well spot something that senior management may have overlooked when making important financial decisions.

 

What would you say is the biggest pitfall law firms fall into from a financial point of view?

Overstretching. Trying to take too much on. Its so easy for law firms to fall into a cycle of borrowing to see them through each month or until the next big costs cheque arrives. Its not so easy to get out of the cycle at the other end.

 

What piece of advice do you think would make the biggest difference to your younger self?

Be confident. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind either professionally or personally. What’s the worst that can happen?

 

Who are in your family bubble?

I live with my partner and my 14 year old son. My mum is also in my family bubble as she lives alone.

 

What do you do when you are not at work?

I like to walk – especially as there’s not much else to do at the moment! I’ve just signed up to a virtual challenge to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats by the end of the year. I enjoy reading and music and eating out. I would give anything for a good night out with friends right now!

 

What have you found hardest to deal with in these COVID times?

Not being able to see friends. I didn’t realise how much I took for granted being able to meet people for coffee or lunch. I’m don’t really like zoom or team meetings so I’m finding that there are some friends that I haven’t spoken to for quite a while.

 

What’s your favourite tipple?

It depends on the weather. I love a nice vodka when the sun is shining but much prefer a good bourbon when it’s cold and dark outside.

 

What’s your desert island disc, book and luxury?

My desert island disc would probably be anything by Bruce Springsteen. Too hard to choose a desert island disc really as my musical tastes are really varied.

My book will have to remain a secret as its far too embarrassing to mention on here!

My luxury item would definitely have to be lip balm. I am that girl who has one everywhere – one in every bag, two in the car, five on my desk…

 

What’s your top tip for working in lockdown?

Make sure you take regular breaks. When you work from home, it’s easy to feel like you should be at your computer for every second of the day. Try and get out and about to stretch your legs – even if its only for 20 minutes at lunch time. And make time to speak to your colleagues about non work related things – it’s the equivalent of having a chat in the office kitchen whilst making a brew!