2020 so far ...... we've been through a period of rapid adjustment and it's probably fair to say that right now, change is the only constant.
This week marks six months since the start of lockdown as well as the reintroduction of tighter restrictions on meeting friends and family, curfews in the hospitality sector and reversion to home working wherever possible.2020 has posed several challenges for businesses and organisations of all sizes and sectors, and tested the resilience and optimism of every individual.
As a firm, we look to make the best of every situation, finding silver linings and seizing opportunities. We have chosen to view the challenges of 2020 as a unique opportunity for a permanent change in our thinking, behaviours, words and actions and as a result are accelerating our change programme.
We were one of the lucky ones. Prior to the pandemic we had already begun a journey of transformation – giving us a head start in our rapid response to the crisis and placing us in a positive position.
When the country went into lockdown back in March we immediately decided to follow two key principles: in it together and in it for the long term.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve ensured full transparency with our people and clients and maintained an agile approach to business strategy. Unlike many other businesses we have not made kneejerk reactions such as salary cuts or an extensive redundancy programme - and while these had to be considered, they were always the last option for us as our people and the clients they support are our top priority.
Our clients are at the heart of everything we do.
In recent months some have flourished, while others have faced serious challenges. We’ve been by their side every step of the way, going above and beyond, wherever we can, to support them during the pandemic and as we emerge into the new abnormal.
In order to demonstrate our commitment to clients and the wider business world we have been providing free guidance and information, such as educational webinars and inspirational talks via our SHMA ON DEMAND service, as well as daily updates and downloadable guides on in our Coronavirus hub. This is on top of our free helpline and zoom consultations.
Our priority is having the right people in the right positions, enabling our people to play to their strengths.
It's our positive passionate people who make our business – and it’s our clients who benefit from our investments in our people.
In the last 12 months we have made changes to our senior team and organisation structure, including establishing a new growth board, which has been wholly focused on our drive for client focus and collaboration. Our new agile structure and operating system is empowering our people, supporting greater accountability and speeding up how we do things.
We’ve also made a significant number of promotions and appointments to our membership, including a number of senior professionals who do not have traditional law backgrounds – we aspire to be a leading example in the sector by adopting a more inclusive mind set, opening the opportunity for inclusion in the membership to all of our people – rewarding hard work, commitment, individuality and experience.
Recognising that unlocking the potential of our people is fundamental to our growth, we have also made a series of Associate/Principal Planner and Legal Director promotions. Within this recent raft of promotions, we’re pleased to note that out of the 13 individuals, almost one third are BAME and almost half are female.
However, positioning ourselves for long-term growth has meant some tough, but necessary, decisions have had to be made. This includes a small number of redundancies, accounting for less than 3% of our people, across both fee earners and business operations.
These decisions are not easy, and we have not made them lightly. Wherever possible we have looked to offer alternative career opportunities in growing areas of our firm. And where this isn’t right for the individual, we’ll be giving them our full support in finding the next stage of their career.
Changes to headcount are not a result of the pandemic, but a response to client needs, as well as our increasing efficiencies and agile working. We continue to proactively hire where we see growth potential – creating jobs for people at all stages of their career.
In 2019 we expected a temporary dip in revenue as a result of our planned refocus and ‘reboot’ of Shakespeare Martineau, which included significant investment in our business – particularly in our digital infrastructure, technology and our people. These investments align with our long-term sustainable business strategy and we view this as a time when we are ‘reloading the catapult’ for long-term growth.
As well as planned investment, coronavirus has also had an impact on our finances. We are a multi-disciplinary firm: we offer a vast range of services for businesses and individuals and fully anticipated a decline in some services as well as an uplift in others. We are however, expecting to see an improvement on fees by the year end, as workflows return to previous levels and we see the impact of new work won during lockdown. We also appreciate that during this time of uncertainty, many of our clients are cash conscious, which will have an impact on debtor days – we’re working on this by having open and honest conversations with our clients on a regular basis.
With the majority of our people working at home, we’re using this time as an opportunity to improve our office environments – transforming them into new ‘hubs’, further enhancing our agile working and creating spaces that provide the right environment for collaboration and creativity.
In the new abnormal we want to offer enhanced flexibility for our people so that they can give their best performance, find a work-life balance that suits them and in turn provide our clients the best service.
We want to make sure we not only support physical wellbeing, but mental wellbeing too and look forward to welcoming clients to our new hubs when it’s safe to do so.
Our purpose is to unlock the potential of our people and clients and we look to do this without bias, ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity for fulfilment, progression and fair reward. This year we saw a slight decrease in our gender pay gap and note that the remaining gap is caused by the fact that our firm employs a lower proportion of males in support roles.
We are also acutely aware of our diversity gap both in our organisation and across the sector and this year we proactively conducted a diversity pay gap analysis. With a proportion of our people opting for ‘prefer not to say’ (PNTS) when declaring ethnicity we know the stats are unlikely to be a full and true representation however, we know there is an issue within our industry and we are committed to closing the gap.
We need to do more and we must do better and we believe that when the chips are down, we can drive the right kind of positive change. As we continue to build upon our More In Common culture, we aim to see a decline in PNTS responses as well as greater diversity within our business that more accurately reflects the national demographic.
At a board level we are seeing signs for a more diverse workforce – currently we have three men, six women and one vacancy. Three members are great examples of social mobility, five are lawyers and four are not, two are openly LGBT and the age-range spans three decades.
Taking responsibility for equality, diversity and inclusivity is not just a nice thing to do, or a moral thing to do, it’s actually a commercial thing to do. It’s better for business, better for the economy, better for society, better for the world.
With regards to the pandemic, we appreciate that it has affected our people in different ways and it’s our responsibility to provide support wherever we can. Not only do we have mental health first aiders and a raft of resources for personal and professional wellbeing on our internal support hub, but we’ve also set up a hardship fund for those who need a little extra financial support during the crisis.
Early in the pandemic, we signed the C-19 business pledge and as part of that took action to support our community; from donating plastic binding covers to help alleviate the PPE shortage and offering our car parking spaces to NHS staff in Birmingham, to partnering in Blackfinch’s #ISOLATIONINTERN initiative and offering students virtual work experience as an online alternative to our usual summer programme.
We’ve also recently reviewed our stance on qualification requirements for our trainees and are actively developing new routes to a career with us, as well as exploring initiatives as part of our commitment to the social mobility pledge.
The pandemic has been a catalyst for change and we’re using this momentum as a force for positivity, growth and good business. We remain true to our values being authentic and open-minded, collaborative across teams, trusted to do the right thing and brave in the decisions we make.
We are very much on a journey of growth and development, but our purpose is clear and our ambitions are unlimited: we want to unlock potential in our people and clients and become one of the most admired top 30 law firms by 2025.
If you are interested in working with us to unlock the potential in your business, or would like to find out about opportunities to join our team and be part of our journey, we would love to hear from you.
Recently I called out to other leaders to join me in using the new abnormal as an opportunity for positive change.
I don’t want to go back to ‘before’. I want to go back to better. Let’s make it happen, together.
CEO, Shakespeare Martineau.