What makes a successful legal firm?

Traditionally a legal firm was controlled by a senior partner who led the firm with an iron fist.

He or she decides when we stop for lunch, when we start work, when we finish work and when we take a holiday as well as what we wear. That person was to be feared and depending on their mood, your day in the office could be heaven or hell.

I am sure we all recognise these characters and I have no doubt they still exist, albeit in reducing numbers, and the ones that do exist will now be directing a sinking ship. The world has changed, clients have changed and staff have also changed.

Post pandemic, the world has still not returned to what it was before and for many, hybrid working as it’s now, called is firmly in place. While the M8 is as busy as it always was and city centre cafes are filling up again, there is a different balance to life that is now expected by staff.

In my firm, all staff wear clothes in which they are comfortable. If needed they dress up more formally, but most dress smart but casual. I had initial concerns about how this would be looked upon by clients, but my feeling is that clients are happy with it and indeed it helps take away the anxiety of meeting your solicitor. Why should we be judged on how we look? Surely how we communicate and how well we advise the client and carry out our tasks should be what is important. I have met many incompetent lawyers who are impeccably dressed.

My staff start, stop and work from home as they require. I don’t dictate this. Work doesn’t start at 9 and finish at 5. Some start work early and some start work later, again this is how modern life is and clients are aware of this and communicate with their agent as required. I find business life runs on far beyond 5pm, but again the positive of this is that if you have to attend a child’s school event, 1 pm to 4pm, that’s fine too. We need flexibility and we need to respond when needed, not when 9-5 dictates. Some staff own pets and again if you need to be bring your pet to work, why not? As long as it doesn’t cause problems for other staff, then fine.

Just as I don’t control times in and out of the office, I don’t control when staff take holidays. The staff take responsibility for when they take a holiday and who will cover their work during holidays. They work in teams who are able to support each other when they are not in. I don’t need to micromanage the staff.

What does this mean in practice? Well, hopefully staff are happier, more content and appreciate the work life balance. They all work hard and indeed it’s a stressful profession to be in, but being in control of life, including work life, should make this more manageable. I do have staff who have left and post pandemic, I have had this more than ever but I put this down to the time away from the office during the pandemic, allowing people to reappraise priorities and to reconsider what they want to do with life. However, we need to react to that and consider what these changes mean to our business structures and our ways of working. We need to move with this change or be left behind. Staff are more fluid than ever and if we don’t embrace what they want then we won’t be able to attract the best staff. Salary alone isn’t enough.

I would argue this respect given to staff makes for staff that treat client in the same respectful way. Listen to the client, manage their expectations and needs and ensure we achieve these needs. This makes for a client who trusts you and who is likely to come back and refer their friends and family to you also. The overall balance and ethos, I would argue leads to a profitable, growing firm, as we have shown to be.

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