Two bonuses for staff in first year of firm’s employee ownership

Oliver & Co: Kay Cook (in blue) and David Owen (centre) with some of their employee owners

A law firm which became 100% employee-owned a year ago has brought in an accountant to explain the firm’s finances to staff, who have so far received two tax-free bonus payments.

David Owen, chief executive of Oliver & Co, said employees had a “far more active” role in the running of the firm than before it became an employee ownership trust (EOT).

He and managing director Kay Cook sold their shares to an EOT in October 2022, making it the largest employee-owned law firm in the North-West, with 85 staff. The firm is paying for the shares over a period of up to five years.

Mr Owen said: “Our goal is to become a debt-free employee-owned law firm, which would put us in an amazing position. We’re going to try and do it in a shorter period than five years.”

Two tax-free bonus payments of £1,500 have been made in the year to every member of staff who had worked there for at least six months.

To help them understand the background to the payments, Mr Owen said the firm had brought in an accountant to explain how it worked financially. This enabled staff to become more aware of the firm’s income and the need to control expenses, for example by turning off lights and not using energy excessively.

The accountant returns every quarter to explain how Oliver & Co is doing financially and answer questions. “Everyone is interested in the firm doing well, because everyone can share the profits,” Mr Owen said.

Another way for employees to seek answers from management is through their representatives on the firm’s trust board. There have been two of these meetings so far, each attended by two employee representatives.

Mr Owen said: “Employees have a far more active role than they did before, and far more of a say. There is transparency over figures and people know what we’re making, which would never have been done before.”

Meanwhile, a management consultant called in to advise the firm’s leadership team on issues such as pricing, brand and mentoring, agreed to provide a simpler version for all staff via Teams.

As well as the tax advantages, Mr Owen said employee ownership could improve recruitment and retention, and was a “selling point” for staff and clients.

“We offer something different. Early on a client came to us, who said he had come because the firm was employee-owned. There are so many advantages to operating this model. I am sure a lot of law firms will follow us as time goes on.”

Several law firms have converted to employee ownership in the last couple of years, most recently a law firm that specialises in advising on employee ownership.

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