What makes a good deputy?

6 April 2018

If only there was a simple answer to this question but it is something I have been musing over. I am a solicitor and a professional deputy – this is what I do, it is my job, but how do I know whether I am actually good at it? Obviously I would like to think I am, but then again most of us think we are quite good at our jobs don’t we!

How do I therefore measure ‘good’? This is such a subjective question - is it because I have a deep understanding and detailed knowledge of the law specific to my field? This certainly helps but most clients will see this as an essential pre-requisite in any event. After all, we only talk to a lawyer because we expect them to know about the law.

How about understanding financial matters and investments? Perhaps I just need to be good with numbers? Again, I would say a pretty necessary starting point but not something that would easily distinguish you from your peers.

So, do we therefore look to the less definable but arguably more important soft skills that a deputy needs? I have always felt I am part lawyer, part financial adviser and part social worker or counsellor in my role. I personally feel that it is this final element, the ability to truly understand a client’s needs that can make a real difference. In my opinion, this distils down to the ability to listen and not pre-judge an issue. To take on board what the client or their family are saying, however it may run contrary to your own views. The follow on from this is the strength of mind to say no when necessary or to reach a compromise, but to do so in a way that the client doesn’t feel they have been dismissed out of hand and that their thoughts and wishes have properly been taken into account. It sounds simple, but then again being a really good listener isn’t always that easy.

Another crucial element for me is in choosing and working with the right team. However good you may think you are, if you don’t have the support of a strong team you will inevitably encounter problems that become almost impossible to deal with. This is something that was drilled into me very early on in my previous career in the Royal Navy, for which I am thankful. In this respect I count myself lucky as I have complete confidence in delegating to any member of my team. Even if I might want to, I cannot now do everything myself!

Where am I going with this? To be honest I am not entirely sure myself but as I approach (with some trepidation) my 50th birthday in a few weeks I find myself thinking more about such things. Perhaps it is the need to think long term and plan for the day when I hand over to a younger successor who can carry this work on. By doing so I want to ensure that whoever takes over can be called a ‘good’ deputy and the client’s needs continue to be met long after I have left. This won’t be about my legacy, I am just a transient part of this story, but about the clients with their hopefully fulfilling lives, who, after all, are all that matters.

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