Spreading gossip about a solicitors’ clients

Is it courteous for a professional firm to discuss intimate details of your personal or business affairs in front of strangers?

Business courtesy: keep your clients' business confidential
Recently I had to visit an established firm of solicitors to collect a document. As I sat in reception, you won’t believe the juicy details of people’s affairs I overheard.

To the right of me sat three women – apparently a member of the firm and two clients – discussing a divorce in very audible whispers. I could tell you about the affair mentioned, but I won’t.

Then, in the centre of reception, a member of staff stood with a client discussing what action to take to stop a relative cheating her out of thousands of pounds she had invested in a joint property investment by selling the house without her knowing.

Did they realise we could hear every detail of their personal business? I would not pay £210 per hour plus VAT for services from a firm who allowed my business to be relayed to anyone sitting in reception.

Business courtesy: keep your clients’ business confidential

Both sets of clients must have had a lot resting on how their cases progressed and I think both required discussions in private. This is not only business sense, but also courteous.

These days, we are often required to discuss confidential details of personal and business matters in an open, public space by banks, building societies, councils and other government organisations. Not only is this not courteous, it is not a secure environment, especially when we encounter daily attempts to steal data about out personal and business identities and affairs.

The cost of privacy

How much does it cost to discuss such matters in an office behind closed doors?

Well, with charges of £210 an hour and offices located in the centre of a large town in South East England, I believe the solicitors I visited could easily have discussed these clients’ affairs in private.

Business courtesy goes beyond a friendly greeting and shaking hands: it’s about treating clients’ business with the confidentiality and respect it deserves.

Anything else is just not professional.

• Robert Zarywacz is UK writer, PR and journalist | founder of pressme.co.uk | partner in Zarywacz | courtesy consultant at pleaseandthanks.co.uk and the National Campaign for Courtesy | Follow on Google+ Twitter and LinkedIn