When I joined Stowe Family Law in the summer of 2019, I was struck by the passion for clients and the friendly and supportive way in which colleagues interacted with one another and welcomed me to the firm. This ‘Stowe way’ was something that virtually everyone I met during my induction commented on.
Having a personable nature within a law firm is extremely important. When we articulated our firm values last autumn, we settled on ‘We have spirit’ – designed to capture that intangible essence of the people in the firm.
When the national lockdown was imposed in March this year, we, like most other firms of our size (170 colleagues, spread across England and Wales), were unprepared. The closure of all our (then 25) offices and the wholesale shift to working from home was not a scenario we had planned for, and the sudden need to adjust was challenging.
This was where our team spirit came to the fore. Everyone, from our client-facing teams through to our support colleagues, put their shoulders to the wheel to ensure that colleagues were supported, and client service was uninterrupted, as we managed the transition.
We have been working pretty much exclusively from home since then. While this has certainly tested our agility and resilience, we have managed to maintain good levels of productivity, client service delivery, engagement and well-being amongst colleagues.
The demands of working through the pandemic has encouraged us to place more emphasis than ever on clear, regular and consistent communication. We led with empathy and focused on pragmatic solutions to specific challenges and issues. We have also benefited enormously from the generosity of colleagues in providing actionable feedback, in a range of ways, to which we have strived to effectively respond.
Something that has really resonated is the opportunity for colleagues to acknowledge the contribution of others; whether via a handwritten postcard, a gift, or a shout-out on our networking application, Jostle – expressions of appreciation have been essential.
Shortly before lockdown, we completed and announced a new ambitious and challenging 3-year strategy for the firm: Stowe 2.0. We are looking to treble the numbers of clients we serve, whilst also improving both the experience of colleagues and how we deliver our services to clients across the UK.
Initially, in the spring, like many, we took stock of the likely impact of the pandemic on our operations and, ‘battened down the hatches’ for a few months. However, by summertime, we were ready to re-activate our Stowe 2.0 plan and take steps to implement it. Specifically, we have opened nine new offices, reflecting our commitment to continue to support our clients in their local communities.
Solidarity has been key to maintaining good levels of performance so that we can focus on growing the firm via recruitment while supporting our client-facing operations.
We are particularly proud to have started our first leadership development program and launched our first end-to-end technology-enabled workflow to support how colleagues deliver exceptional advice to clients.
It has been observed often during the past six months that the pandemic has dramatically accelerated shifts that were already underway in terms of how we, as professionals, work and deliver services to clients. Like others, we are now wrestling with how our strategy might need to change or evolve to reflect these trends.
We are focussing on two areas in particular: firstly, on how our office network is evolving to meet the future needs of clients and colleagues. And secondly, how we will build on the existing technology infrastructure that has enabled us to operate during the past year, again with the future needs (and wants) of clients and colleagues in mind.
We think that our future solutions in these areas (and others) will need to prioritise flexibility and choice in terms of how both colleagues and clients interact with us and access services.
While this may be easier said than done, it is where our focus lies as we move forward in 2021. With over 75% of our team wanting to combine home and office-based working post Covid-19, a hybrid model offering flexibility and choice for our colleagues is at the heart of how we will operate as a firm.
Another significant event that touched many law firms during the summer was the explosion of consciousness about the ongoing impact of racism and discrimination in our community triggered by the killing of George Floyd.
This was a difficult moment for many firms, and we were compelled to confront the continuing impact on our colleagues and the adequacy of our response, in various ways.
This heightened our awareness and encouraged open, constructive dialogues. It also highlighted that lifting diversity within our firm was a priority that could no longer be deferred.
2020 has been a year like no other. I suspect for different reasons 2021 will be an equally dynamic year within our profession.
Ken Fowlie is Chairman of Stowe Family Law