Sarah Canning Franklins Solicitors
Interviewer: Tell us about Franklins and your work as a solicitor.
Sarah: Franklins Solicitors have two offices, in Northampton and Milton Keynes. We’re a multidisciplinary firm, so we offer legal services to businesses and individuals. But we’ve got some exciting news! Later this month we’ll be moving our corporate and business departments to new premises on Billing Road, Northampton.
As for me, I joined Franklins in 1992 and then qualified in 1994. I specialise in dispute work, which is also known as litigation, and I do this for both individuals and for businesses.
Interviewer: In over 20 years of dealing with disputes, how have things changed over time?
Sarah: They’ve changed a lot! Initially we would either negotiate or litigate a case, and often things went to court. In those days, court was very different. I can remember going into a smaller court many times, where a District Judge would hold hearings in chambers. One District Judge kept his pipe in his top drawer and throughout a hearing you’d get a puff of smoke sneaking out. If a hearing went on for too long, it would get really cloudy! That just wouldn’t happen now.
But along with changes in court, legislation has changed as well. Following the implementation of the Civil Procedure Rules there’s been much more emphasis on parties resolving disputes through mediation. This empowers parties to look at the options open to them and facilitates them making their own decisions rather than relying on a judge to do that.
Interviewer: If someone was deciding whether to litigate or mediate, what are the main differences?
Sarah: The biggest difference is who makes the final decision. In litigation, it’s the judge. He’ll hear evidence from both sides, read witness statements, and look at case law and legislation to make a decision. In mediation, however, it’s both parties that make the final decision. It is a voluntary process, but it’s really beneficial because they can utilise their business acumen to get an outcome that’s desirable to both. In court, a judge is stuck with precedents and what court says. Mediation is also less costly because one can find a better solution, more quickly.
Interviewer: I know all your work is confidential, but can you give us any examples without naming names?
Sarah: A good example is a family business that needed an honest conversation. Sometimes it’s about bringing people together who know and love each other but who struggle to communicate. Third party intervention can enable people to put forward their views and be heard.
I’ve also been in a room with a client who was in a difficult situation. We were facing his opposition and their solicitor. This solicitor was putting his case forward really well, and I knew that my client hadn’t got the money to settle the dispute. If it went to court he would probably wind the company up and both parties would have lost. But as the other solicitor was talking, I could sense his client was uneasy. I therefore suggested that the lawyers should step out the room and let the clients speak alone. Within half an hour, they’d discovered that they were both in financial difficulties. My client learnt that his opponent had a 2 week run on cash flow and wouldn’t be able to pay his wage bills. The outcome was they agreed interim payments as part of a settlement agreement.
Interviewer: It sounds as though people deal with disputes differently, have you spotted any trends?
Sarah: Yes. One of the most common things is when we deal with a traumatic incident people tend to fall into certain categories. Some confront a situation, and are often seen as peace breakers who push to get only what they want. But some are collaborators, who are peace makers, who try to find a way forward for everybody. Then others just keep quiet, whilst bubbling with anxiety. If they could communicate, a lot of that worrying could be put aside.
Interviewer: What advice would you give to someone facing a dispute?
Sarah: The litigator in me would say keep all your evidence. But it’s also important to pause and think about what the other person’s thinking. The reality is if it goes to court the judge will hear what the other side will say, so don’t wait to hear it. Step into their shoes and see it from their point of view. You’ll get insight to what they’ll say and argue. This will help you work out what you’re going to say too. Plus keeping communication going will get a resolution much more quickly.
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