Judge Spotlight: Lakshmi Turner, SFE Chief Executive

In a series of Supporters in Focus pieces, we are thrilled to introduce our Judges of The British Wills and Probate Awards 2021

Alongside headline sponsor Executor Solutions we look forward to recognising achievement, highlighting progression and championing innovation.

However, the awards couldn’t take place without the hard task of judging and shortlisting the entries. It’s not a task many would take on, but we are extremely grateful to those that have.

Today we profile Lakshmi Turner, a regular judge at the British Wills and Probate Awards.

First of all, tell us who you are and what you do.

I am the chief executive of SFE (Solicitors for the Elderly), a membership organisation of legal professionals, specialising in older client law. Prior to joining SFE, I was a marketing director. As I have an MBA, my focus has always been on business strategy, taking a very strong customer centric approach. My skills in branding and communication have helped to transform SFE into the organisation it is today.

As CEO, I am responsible for overseeing a board of directors and team of regional directors. My role is to guide the board and help them to shape the strategy for SFE, which I’m responsible for delivering. We work closely with a team of technical consultants who are at the top of their field in older client law. This team helps SFE to create all its best practice materials. We deliver this through webinars, conferences, seminars and our best practice guides in a number of key areas. We also have two externally accredited qualifications. Our OCCP Award (older client care in practice) is unique as it focuses on the soft skills needed to work with older and vulnerable clients.

I also run the SFE website and all our marketing and promotional activities. I edit the SFE newsletter which is a huge team effort, with up to 10 contributors in any one edition.

I am responsible for positioning the SFE brand and pushing SFE to deliver on its goals: i.e.

  • Recognisable mark of quality and the go to brand for the public seeking legal advice
  • Industry experts – the go to brand for media, the sector in general, charities and the MOJ
  • Professional network for lawyers working in this field

Together with our fabulous PR agency – Jack&Grace – I also drive our PR and social media strategies. SFE is increasingly visible on social media with a large, vibrant LinkedIn group, an active Twitter feed, a

Facebook page with interesting content for consumers and an informative blog, written for the public by SFE members.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

I came to the legal profession quite by chance 16 years ago. I soon realised that the legal profession was very behind in terms of its business approach and had a fairly low opinion of marketing.

I was fortunate that the SFE board was forward thinking and initially brought me in to do some business development work back in 2004. I also had a long-standing software client who had software products and business in the solicitor, barrister and probate sectors. So, over the years, I have developed a good understanding of how the market operates and what the key concerns of SFE’s members are.

I have developed an in depth understanding of the issues facing older and vulnerable people, women (and men) in the sandwich generation, and suddenly, I find myself to be very popular at dinner parties, with people wanting advice. I am happy to talk in general terms about the issues we are all facing as we hit middle age and beyond, but my mantra is always – “use an SFE member.”

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the Wills and Probate sector?

Hone your people skills! You will spend a lot of time dealing with people who may need a lot of help. It could be an older person with fluctuating capacity, or someone who has just been bereaved after a lifetime with their partner, or an adult child worried about their parents. You also need to be good at reading people, as when dealing with older and vulnerable people, safeguarding your clients is a critical part of your responsibilities.

What improvements do you think could be made to the Wills and Probate sector?

Solicitors have a reputation of being aloof, expensive and unapproachable. I can only speak for the older and vulnerable client sector, but it takes a special person, with a particular skillset, to be successful in this area. Of course, at SFE, we provide training and produce best practice materials to support with this. The many members I have met, do not fall into the ‘traditional’ view of solicitors. Quite the contrary in fact, many are gentle, patient and prepared to go the extra mile for clients. If they would only improve their marketing and external communication skills, perceptions may well start to shift.

As a Judge of the awards, what will you be looking for to identify that winning entry?

I am always on the lookout for a compelling story. What was the issue/challenge being faced and what steps were undertaken to overcome this and turn it into something fresh and positive?

I will be on the look out for innovation and out of the box thinking. This is particularly true, given the extremely difficult circumstances we have all had to work in.

I will also be looking out for what lessons were learnt from a particular project or initiative and what aspects have been taken forward into everyday business dealings.

If a project or initiative has had an impact on the whole industry or that it has the future potential so to do. Or if a particular person or team really went the extra mile and this had a transformative effect on the firm.

How important do you think it is to recognise achievement in the sector?

The legal profession is a traditional sector, having been around for centuries and having always done things in certain ways. With robots, AI and the like coming along, it is so important to recognise people who do things differently and embrace new technology and ideas whilst never losing sight of the customer experience.

What are the most prominent challenges the industry is facing at the moment?

There are too many to mention in a couple of sentences.

The entire sector has had to adapt to working in lockdown. However, for vulnerable clients being online and the digital world may not be a viable option for them. The pandemic has really forced firms to re-think their offering. In my opinion, it is not an either/or. There will always be clients who like the re-assurance of a face to face meeting and feel the need for human interaction. There will be others who want the polar opposite. There is a way to cater for both, either that or become incredibly niche and ultra-specialised.

Thank you to Lakshmi Turner for her support for The British Wills & Probate Awards 2021.

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