Staff at employee-owned law firm receive £4,000 bonus

Wearing: Increased bonus in 2023

Employee-owned law firm Ison Harrison doubled the turnover of its commercial division last year, partly by advising other businesses on how to become employee-owned.

Jonathan Wearing, managing director of the Yorkshire firm, said qualifying staff received a bonus of £4,000 for 2023 – compared to £3,600 in 2022 – after the firm increased turnover by 16% in its second year of employee ownership, from £19m to £22m.

Ison Harrison is one of the largest employee-owned law firms, with over 270 staff at 19 offices across Yorkshire.

Mr Wearing said the firm advised more than 20 businesses on how to become employee-owned in 2023, and “because we’ve done it, there is a credibility there”. This, together with recruitment, helped the firm’s commercial division double turnover to £2.7m.

To qualify for a bonus, staff – whether full- or part-time – must have worked for the firm for at least a year.

Under the employee ownership rules, only the first £3,600 of the bonus is tax free, with National Insurance payable on the rest. Mr Wearing said staff were offered the option of receiving bonuses in January, rather than December, to benefit from the lower National Insurance rate.

“The profit distribution gets everyone into the room, acknowledging the benefits of each other regardless of what department they’re in.”

Mr Wearing added that the leadership teams of employee-owned law firms needed to “understand and believe” in being employee-owned, as well as being properly rewarded for a firm’s good performance.

Ison Harrison opened its latest office in Queensbury near Bradford earlier this week. Mr Wearing said a 20th office would open in Yorkshire later this year, but he had no plans to open offices outside the county.

“With an increasing number of offices we can leverage economies of scale, for the benefits of clients and ourselves.”

He said the firm had become “more cohesive and united” partly through being employee-owned, and partly because of its network of offices.

There was “no culture of them and us”, which could arise if the firm had two or three much larger offices. “People move around our offices. There are connections all over the place. Culturally we are as united as we’ve ever been.

“In fact, the offices have made it easier, rather than harder to work together. The consistency and sense of belonging have got better, not worse.”

He said the breadth of services offered by the firm was another of its strengths, and gave it “security against legislative changes and downturns”.

As well as the corporate team, the legal aid department increased turnover, with every part of it improving on the year before and the civil claims and inquests team doubling its income after a securing a contract for claims against public authorities.

Despite the downturn in the property market, the firm’s property division increased turnover to over £6m.

Mr Wearing said commercial and residential conveyancing had done well, and particularly the specialist new build team, which had “become less regional”, advising clients in the Midlands, and further north, as well as a few in the south of England.

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