Our first year – reflections by our Managing Director, Sue Morrison
When we first decided to set up LBD there was a mixed reaction from people who know us. There was huge enthusiasm from some and cautious reaction from others. Comments such as:
“It’s like having a new born baby – you worry all the time, you don’t get any sleep and you are permanently exhausted…but eventually it reaches the toddler stage (after 3 years or so) and you start to get into a rhythm…” , “go for it – it’s exciting and rewarding..” or, “I think you are incredibly brave!” (suggesting we were in fact, barking mad!!!!!!!!!)
So, what is the story behind Law By Design and the “By Design” group?
Once upon a time there was a group of very disillusioned employment lawyers who had spent many years of their lives working in big international law firms. They were at various stages in their careers but they had one thing in common – they were not happy.
None of them was near retirement age and none of them wished to contemplate working for the rest of their lives in an environment that had become culturally alien as their firm doubled in size, appeared to be motivated solely by increasing profit year on year at the expense of life balance and without any regard for the individuals who worked in it. The business model they had to follow was outmoded, terribly slow and not client focussed. Clients had to fit the firm’s model rather than the firm fitting the client’s required model for service.
They had individually been looking for new homes to work in but had been left “cold” by the options. There was no shortage of offers from rival firms but they were all essentially “same rubbish, different firm”.
Sue resigned in February 2012 but her notice period was 14 months and it wasn’t long before her intention to leave was the subject of the office grapevine. Members of the employment team expressed concern she was leaving and indicated they would love to join her.
In mid-2012 Sue was talking to some friends about her options and jokingly one of them asked, why don’t you set up your own firm? It has to be said this conversation was after they had drunk a couple of large jugs of Sangria whilst on holiday together in Spain. Sue laughed, were they mad or what? She was too old; it was too risky; and there was not enough Sangria in Spain to convince her. So the challenge of finding a new employer continued.
At the same time, in a parallel universe, Nick Grimshaw, then HR Director at Blackpool NHS FT – a very seasoned HR campaigner -was contemplating a change in career direction. He was looking for new challenges without deciding exactly what he wished to do.
Nick and Sue had the quest for new horizons in common but they had both also resigned without a job to go to. A bit like jumping off a cliff without a safety net! I refer back here to the “barking mad” comment…
Nick was not sure what he wanted to do career wise but Sue was very clear that some kind of venture that involved Nick would be an excellent idea (whether she went solo or joined another firm). At that stage she had no intention of establishing her own firm. They carried on chatting….
By November 2012 Sue was in the final stages of discussions with a very large international law firm. There she was with all negotiations concluded with a nice, secure, package agreed and contract in hand. Pen poised at home ready to accept and return the documents. Why did she feel so sick at the thought and so reluctant to sign?
At that point Sue’s husband, Nigel, who can read her like a book, said; “you don’t want to go there, do you?” Sue had to admit she definitely did not (nor any other firm like it). Nigel suggested to Sue “why don’t you set up your own boutique employment law firm?” and offered his complete support if that is what she really wanted to do. This time, Sue did not dismiss the idea out of hand. It might actually work; a firm that offered everything that the alternatives could not.
That was 2nd January 2013 and we have not looked back since.
Sue was determined that this firm would be a law firm with a difference. To match market demand, she simply had to have Nick’s HR experience, expertise and insight on the team. After several attempts, Sue had worn Nick down and he agreed to step into the unknown and join the company……. And Law by Design Limited grew from there.
The result was that we could offer from day one, a combined HR and employment law service using our respective skills, working together to design our service around our clients. We wanted to provide a service that would be high quality delivered by trusted legal and HR advisers, offering tangible benefits and added value. We would offer training and investigative work in addition to core employment law advice and HR. This eventually led us to establishing Investigations by Design in its own right as the offering was so successful (and indeed remains so).
But I digress…
It has been like a military campaign from applying for SRA approval through to finding premises, computer systems and software, phones, furniture, bank manager, accountants, websites in addition to setting up processes, policies and procedures. At the same time Sue was planning her wedding to Nigel in Portugal – as if that wasn’t stressful enough! And Sue’s lovely husband Nigel was simply amazing. Without his support we would definitely not be where we are today. Setting up a new office is like moving into a new house with no furniture, broadband, telephone, TV, only five times worse.. and he sorted it all so we could deal with the regulatory stuff.
Day 1 – 1st May 2013 – and we were still waiting with baited breath and some impatience for SRA approval. We could not trade. The SRA was busy dragging its feet. The office seemed huge. Empty desks were waiting for colleagues to arrive and fill them. Would the ‘phone ring? Would the filing cabinets ever be filled with files? Would we get any clients? We were operating with 3 lawyers, Nick and Lee Ginty as PA. What on earth had possessed us?
On 25th May 2013 we finally gained our SRA licence to carry on business as solicitors and it took off from there. More former colleagues arrived and it began to feel like a real law firm.
As you would imagine we have had our ups and downs – it has been like a game of snakes and ladders but fortunately more ladders than snakes so our trend is upwards.
Our ‘snake’ events included – post being lost because the landlords had given us an incorrect postal address; BT cut off the phones for non-payment because we had not paid because we had not had our post! Our IT system that had been sold to us as fit for purpose in an employment law firm was not fit for purpose and we had to threaten to sue them for misrepresentation before getting our money back, and then we had an attempted burglary of our office.
Fortunately we learnt from these events and put them right (and the burglars got nothing for their trouble).
And all this time we have continued to listen to you and devise services that are fit for your needs.
What have we learnt?
- The value of team work and supporting each other through thick and thin
- It is a big commitment and you cannot do it without supportive partners and friends
- Life is a game of snakes and ladders and if you slip down you have to pick yourself up and start climbing again
- You have to have a plan for the business but you need to operate flexibly and respond to changes that affect the viability of the plan
- Being innovative is key to success
- You have to listen to what your clients want and constantly review your services to tailor what you offer and how you deliver to client’s specific needs
- It is important to maintain a positive attitude even when things are not going as well as you would wish
- Enthusiasm and hard work blended with excellent service to clients – will produce its own rewards
- Keep an open mind about new ideas – better to try and not succeed than not try at all (although it is better to try and to succeed)
- We wish we had done this sooner