When I was welcomed into Stowe Family Law during the summer of 2019, what became immediately apparent was the passion my colleagues held for their clients and the warm and friendly atmosphere. During my induction, I heard many times about the ‘Stowe way’ of doing things and the spirit of the firm.
Perhaps many companies would claim to share the values of excellent client service and great teamwork, but there is a spirit of camaraderie at Stowe which is contagious: a ‘can do’ attitude that is uplifting and inspiring. Indeed, the whole energy of the firm is embodied in one of the company’s core values: We have spirit.
Like many firms of our size (170 colleagues across England and Wales), we were not prepared when the lockdown was announced in March last year. At the time we had 25 offices which all had to be closed, and people had to shift wholesale from working from the office to working from home. This sudden shift in working patterns proved challenging as no plans were in place for such an unforeseeable event.
However, Stowe’s spirit rose to the challenge as everyone came together with the determination to work as one to ensure that all colleagues were supported and that client service remained uninterrupted while we negotiated this transition period.
Homeworking has become pretty much the norm since then. We have had our creativity and resilience put to the test in ways we could never have imagined. Yet, we have succeeded in maintaining good levels of client service delivery and engagement. Given our values, I am also delighted to report a high level of well-being amongst colleagues.
The effect of the pandemic encouraged us to focus acutely on clear, regular and consistent communication. Empathy has played a big part in our effectiveness, as has our ability to offer pragmatic solutions to a range of issues and challenges.
We have also benefited enormously from colleagues’ generosity in providing actionable feedback in various ways, to which we have strived to respond effectively.
We understand how important it is that every single person feels valued and appreciated in the workplace. Our values of care and compassion show up in our expressions of appreciation to one another. Whether it’s a handwritten postcard, a gift or simply a shout-out on our intranet, Jostle, these expressions of appreciation mean so much to our happiness and wellbeing in the workplace.
Shortly before lockdown, we completed and announced a new 3-year strategy for the firm: Stowe 2.0. The plan is ambitious and challenging. We are looking to treble the numbers of clients we serve whilst also improving both colleagues’ experience and how we deliver our services to clients across the UK.
Initially, in the spring, like many, we took stock of the likely impact of the pandemic on our operations and ‘battened down the hatches’ for a few months. However, by summertime, we were ready to re-activate our Stowe 2.0 plan and take steps to implement it. Specifically, we have opened nine new offices, reflecting our commitment to continue to support our clients in their local communities.
I am thankful to work with colleagues who have stood together in solidarity throughout this global pandemic. Their determination to maintain performance levels and continue to grow the firm despite personal sacrifice has made me very proud to work with them.
A source of pride for us is the introduction of our first leadership development program in 2020. We also launched our first end-to-end technology-enabled workflow to support how colleagues deliver exceptional advice to clients.
The Covid-19 pandemic has radically accelerated changing trends in how we work and deliver services to our clients. We are now contemplating how we might reflect these trends in our strategic decisions.
We are shining the spotlight on two areas in particular. The first is understanding how our office network is evolving to meet clients and colleagues’ future needs. The second is how we build on the technology infrastructure that has allowed us to operate so effectively during the past year.
These questions are contemplated, as always, with the future needs and desires of clients and colleagues in mind. We anticipate that flexibility and choice will be the watchwords as we find the best ways for colleagues to interact and for clients to access our services.
With over 75% of our team wanting to combine home and office-based working post Covid19, a hybrid model offering flexibility and choice for our colleagues is now at the heart of how we will operate as a firm.
And we continue to support our ongoing growth with the pro-active recruitment of new lawyers and legal executives, both to join our local teams and to support our client-facing operations as key colleagues.
We can say for sure that 2020 was a year like no other and whilst we face challenges as we slide into 2021, I predict that it will be equally dynamic within our profession, and especially at Stowe Family Law.
Ken Fowlie is chairman of Stowe Family Law