You’re hired – Building the right culture

As a lawyer, my career has been built upon respecting red tape – adhering to, treading alongside, but never crossing that tape. When I launched HRC Law, for the first time, I was able to create the rules and paint whatever I wished on the blank canvas in front of us – creating the right culture.

It goes without saying that the legal industry is traditional in almost all respects. We are limited to what we can do and how we can operate which is why, while firms may vary in expertise, most are cast in a somewhat similar mould. Setting up HRC Law I wanted to challenge the norm and build a new kind of culture – the right culture.

Realising I held the power to rewrite the rules has been liberating and has evolved us into a company that exudes passion, not just expertise. This month, we’ve added a new partner and solicitor to our headcount and as they’ve settled in, it excites me to start to think about what they’ll add to the business.

We’ve built from the ground up, starting first and foremost with building the right team.

A positive attitude is more valuable and, in the end, more profitable to the business than someone who may have bags of experience or top academic marks. We have recruited some excellent members of the team who previously, in a larger firm might not have got past HR to interview stage. Either their education didn’t fit the firm’s “profile” or they had qualified via an unusual route, but what they lacked in experience they made up in with steely grit and a big personality. Provided you have the ability and will to train and support someone the “hard” skills can be learned – attitude can’t, and from my perspective it’s amazingly rewarding to watch a member of the team flourish and develop. Attitude creates culture so to us this is often more important than the usual HR checkpoints.

When the right person comes along, we do what we can to grab them. Yes, we have a plan that’s been crucial to the firm’s success, but if we need to step outside the constraints of that plan and be flexible or take a leap of faith on a hire, we do.

We continue to be a growing team and the addition of our fifth partner is part of a bid to free up some of my time so I can focus on growing and directing the business. Will this work? Ask me in 12 months.

We haven’t dropped all the rules. Appraisals were something that I, at first, did not believe we needed – in such a small firm I saw no reason why feedback couldn’t be an ongoing dialogue. In short, it can’t – well, not efficiently anyway.

We created a simple but effective appraisal system, removing the “scoring” element. The importance of an appraisal to celebrate success and address issues in an appropriate manner cannot be overestimated. When things have gone well we remember to congratulate the team publicly. When things haven’t gone quite so well we discuss privately what could have gone better and explore alternative ways to deal with the situation in question.

This month, I was delighted to read a testimonial from a client about one of our more junior lawyers. The client’s glowing comments, included the following line: “I feel absolutely confident that I always receive your full attention, and I trust you implicitly to deliver on the commitments that you make to us.” That’s the right attitude in action.

It’s easy to forget the small things when you are busy working closely together on a daily basis but the small things make a massive difference both to success and the development of the team. In a small team, making sure everyone is working effectively is imperative to succeeding as there is no ability to carry an underperforming member. This close culture of the wider team and management means we’re able to tackle issues and adapt to change more effectively than larger law firms.

As well as a new partner, Richard Life, we’ve taken on Laura Darnley, who is a solicitor, this month. She will bring a new area of expertise to the firm. It’s important to respond to the demands of clients and the wider landscape. Laura specialises in business immigration and our clients will benefit from this specialism as they all prepare to potentially navigate a post-Brexit world – whatever that may look like.

Every business, new or old, will talk about the right culture and values, this isn’t anything new, but – please forgive the cliché – most companies talk the talk but very few will walk the walk. Why? Because, no matter the industry, stress, deadlines, clients, work will almost always take precedence.

My mantra is to build an organisation that, if I were looking for employment, I would want to work for. We’ve built solid foundations and with our sights now set on our 2020 growth strategy to increase the team from 20 to 50, the right culture will continue to take centre stage.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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