We arrive at his offices, in North Road East, Plymouth, to be greeted with a frenetic atmosphere as staff members busy themselves with legal claims. The personal injury specialists have a strong track record of success spanning more than 15 years – with Chris at the helm throughout.
We are provided with coffees and ushered into the conference room. Tom, the photographer, admires the Van Gogh prints on the walls as he sets about preparing his lenses, camera and flash for the accompanying photoshoot.
Chris appears through the door, clutching paperwork, before settling himself in a seat at the head of the table. Shortly afterwards, he is surrounded by his team of loyal staff and Tom starts clicking away with his camera.
As he whirls through the digital wizardry of his equipment, OM passes the time by chatting about Hollywood movies with Abraham, a key member of the team (and also Chris’ son).
It’s a rapport building conversation which instantly puts us at our ease and we feel a great warmth towards the company – it’s perhaps not every day that top legal experts can engage so readily in that all important ability to produce small talk. But, as we soon discover, this is a company which is proud to be different from other personal injury specialists.
“We don’t take on any case without seeing the client so we can access the individual and the facts. We do not encourage anyone to pursue a claim without reasonable prospects,” explains Chris. “We provide a proper service as we are 100% dedicated to the client as the vast majority of people have a genuine grievance.”
“They are mostly interested in getting good treatment and have a resolution for their symptoms, especially for the more seriously injured, and that means more to them than the compensation itself.”
It’s a far cry from Chris’ first profession in the catering industry. Born into a large family, and growing up in Plymouth, he left school with no qualifications before going into the hospitality business.
By his mid-thirties he was running his own cafeteria in the city centre, when he began to get chatting with a regular patron, Arthur Madison, who would come in every Wednesday afternoon. Chris recalls that Arthur was always reading (mainly about history) and soon the two engaged in conversations about careers and degree courses.
Arthur had a strong background in academia and, following a number of meetings, he suggested to Chris that he, “Wouldn’t regret gaining a qualification in either economics or law.”
It was a small seed which would eventually blossom into a magnificent tree and benefit thousands of clients. Chris concentrated on catastrophic and brain injury cases, with some cases receiving a pay out of more than one million pounds.
With Arthur’s enthusiasm and support, Chris eventually took his law degree at the University of London. Sadly, Arthur has since died and OM asks Chris what he would have made of his protégé’s success.
Chris becomes quiet and reflective. “I did get the law degree before he passed away and he was delighted,” he says softly. “It was a series of meetings which changed my whole life and he would be pleased for me.”
“Arthur was always interested in other people and he took positive steps to encourage others he came into contact with to improve their educational standing.” With a background in the hospitality business, it meant Chris had the right people skills to flourish in the legal world, as he says, “If you do well in getting on well with people then you can get on well in business.”
Shortly after graduation, Chris had the opportunity to work as a barrister in London but his heart was firmly in Plymouth and so he returned to the city and soon started work with one of the city’s top legal companies. With two years as a trainee under his belt, Chris found himself at another company heading up a team in its Personal Injuries Claims department. The section rapidly grew from 10 lawyers to 36 and Chris left to set up his own business.
“I decided to go it alone as you can provide a more personal service when you are in a smaller company and it allows you to develop in your own manner and provides greater progression in your practice and in your career,” he says.
That was 16 years ago. Since then, his business has seen exceptional growth with much of it stemming from the loyalty, hard work and dedication of his family members working in the business, his staff and of course company partner, Alistair Tawse, and his wife Sarah Tawse who is a senior solicitor at the firm.
It’s a busy time for Chris. The company has approximately 500 cases a year (which he says is not a conservative estimate). Outside of running the business, he is also President of the Rotary Club of Plymouth and heavily involved in aiding local charities – his focus on helping people extending far beyond the walls of his office.
“Business is like life, you have to be people focused,” he explains. “It’s not about making money. It’s about running it professionally to provide a good product for the client.”
Honesty is a big part of Chris’ mantra and so part of his firm’s work is about not raising client expectations. After all, they cannot guarantee the desired result in every case they examine but he does have tremendous faith in the legal process.
“We cannot always get justice, but, it is a fair system and, providing you do not abuse it then you can get a good result. I am always very driven and prepared to work hard. I don’t mind spending time with people, even if they do not pursue the claim. My firm has a good reputation locally.”
So, it is perhaps not surprising, the key dynamic which Chris believes has ensured the success of the firm has been a happy working atmosphere – something which he believes is vital for any office.
His home life is equally well balanced with a family of four children. Three of them are lawyers and one is a pharmacist. It is perhaps his role, as a loving husband and caring father, which are among his greatest qualities as it allows him to readily identify injustices through the eyes of a family man. He can then use his training, and knowledge, to try to put things right.
Talking about his family, he says, “We are all very happy as human beings and that is the greatest achievement in life, if husband, wife and children are all happy. I think we are very fortunate.”
As we head towards the end of the interview, OM asks him to sum up his business success in a succinct sentence. “Dedicated, thorough and dynamic,” is his reply.
These three words are the crucial ingredients which have assured his ability, together with all of his staff, to help families across Plymouth to gain support and guidance from one of the city’s leading experts in Personal Injury claims.
They are the three words which would surely provide a smile for Arthur Madison – the man who would buy coffee from Chris back in the eighties and spotted the real potential in him which would go on to help so many other people.
33 North Road East, Plymouth PL4 6AY