Lawyers write “user manuals” so colleagues can understand them

Hill: We are genuinely flexible

The founder of a law firm at the forefront of the wellbeing movement has described how her lawyers write “user manuals” about themselves when they first arrive, which colleagues read to help understand the way they work.

Jodie Hill, founder of Thrive Law, said she was “very direct” with staff about her anxiety and ADHD, and the stigma associated with mental health problems “just wasn’t there”.

Ms Hill told yesterday’s Legal Futures Innovation Conference that Thrive Law, an employment law practice based in Leeds, put wellbeing, diversity and inclusion at the centre of everything it did.

Having worked at a conventional law firm and had a breakdown, she described how she set up Thrive Law and remained sole owner and shareholder.

“Our ethos is different. We are genuinely flexible. It can be really hard for people to adjust to that, who are accustomed to the way of working in other firms.”

Ms Hill said that every month staff gave her 360-degree feedback, and most achieved the behaviours they needed – such as flexibility, reliability and communication – to get a bonus.

She conducted one-to-one meetings with the firm’s eight staff every month and there was a monthly awards scheme where they could win holidays.

Staff were asked to write ‘user manuals’ about themselves when they first arrived at the firm, “where they talk about themselves and how they work best, how they communicate best”.

Ms Hill said she was “very direct” with people about her anxiety and ADHD, which meant staff had “really opened up” to her, even at the point of their interview, and told her what they struggled with.

“It’s all about communication and being honest with each other. If I say to my team that I’m having a really bad time and I’m going to be slower, they really step up and likewise we help each other. It does seem to work.”

Ms Hill said the skills that law firm managers needed had changed, partly because of the demands they were making in the current job market and partly because of the need to “check in with people more and communicate better” when managing remotely.

“If we managed people as we did before the lockdowns, then we wouldn’t be managing them correctly and they will leave.”

She said more and more law firms were adopting a “people first” approach and putting wellbeing and diversity at the top of their priority lists.

In the same session, on leading the modern law firm, Ken Fowlie, executive chair of private equity-owned Stowe Family Law, said the challenges of leading law firms were the same, “irrespective of ownership structure”. However, trying to lead change at a law firm made things “doubly difficult”.

He said firms with “financial sponsors”, such as private equity firms, needed to be more disciplined in their focus and to have a “strong sense of growth mindedness”.

Mr Fowlie said good managers often had a “different skillset to those who are really effective lawyers” and the majority of his executive team at Stowe were not lawyers.

He said partners at traditional law firms could find it hard to recognise that they had a range of roles in an organisation. “The ownership role is different from the management role and client-facing professional role.”

Mr Fowlie added that Stowe invested in lawyers’ leadership abilities as soon as they reached two years’ post-qualification experience, through a programme called Elevate.

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