Wendy Rainbow – partner at Shoosmiths – on why the firm is leading the way in recoveries

The Recoveries Services Group (“RSG”) is one of Shoosmiths’ five practice groups and leads the market in recovering almost every banking and finance product in breach including mortgages, credit cards, loans, asset finance goods and invoice finance debts.

The majority of RSG’s clients are banking institutions and debt purchasers. As the majority of the RSG team comprises non-qualified staff, the solicitors working in the team experience a different role to the usual litigation lawyer and one that is highly specialised.

Their role encompasses that of a traditional transactional solicitor but in addition, they have team management and development responsibilities, project management skills as well as being expected to build relationships at all levels of our clients’ businesses. I head up the mortgage recovery teams based in the firm’s Northampton and Manchester offices responsible for:-

~ conducting rehabilitation activity with our client’s customers as well as conducting possession proceedings;
~ managing defended and complex residential property recovery claims;
~ selling properties subject to our clients’ charges; and
~ distributing any surplus proceeds of sale (more difficult than it sounds).

As you would anticipate, our recovery practice today is unrecognisable to that when I started in 1996 and business acumen is as much in demand now as legal skills. The sophistication of our clients, the integration of procurement teams and the increased commoditisation of our services to gain and maintain market share means the industry is more competitive than ever. Add in the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as a shadow regulator and it’s an interesting mix.

Building relationships with clients requires a special skill and is what Shoosmiths is all about. In addition, in RSG, we also have to demonstrate performance to our clients’ procurement teams and then beat the competition on price.

There is the potential for other parts of the law to learn from working in this market. We are always challenged for better service design, innovation and creativity as well as wishing that technology could keep up with us.

How many times as a solicitor have you pored over your team’s management information and reviewed your team’s performance as against a competitor at a client meeting? Do you always comply with a clear desk policy, request appropriate data protection questions before speaking with your client about sensitive information and ensure your email communications are encrypted? Do you have your telephone calls audited to ensure fair outcomes for your client’s customers? Has your client’s information security team visited your office to verify how safe its data is?

There aren’t many areas in many firms where client and regulatory oversight is so pervasive. However, we have learnt many lessons by adopting the standards imposed by our client’s regulator. Ultimately, all of the checks and balances incorporated have resulted in a better, stronger and more resilient RSG team. The SRA, with its adoption of outcome focussed regulation in 2011, was four years behind the financial industry. Who knows what the SRA’s expectations for outcomes-focussed regulation will be four years after it was introduced?