Your ‘how’ is the new ‘how’ – embrace change and stand-out from the crowd

By Alex Bishop – partner and co-head of the Birmingham office, Shoosmiths

Law firms are not known for embracing change and standing out from the crowd. But at Shoosmiths, we want everyone to know that this is something we are good at. We are a unique firm and employer – not only because we have a defined cultural identity and a strong values set, but because we aren’t afraid to make positive, bold decisions.

Upon the opening of our offices on 3 August, we told everybody about our unique new way of working – giving colleagues more choice to make their own decisions on where and when they work. This is one of the four key working principles set up by Shoosmiths which has committed to an output not occupancy ethos, with technology taking precedence over floorspace – all aimed at enhancing the firm’s client experience.

The advent of the public health crisis acted as a catalyst, enhancing our unique brand of agile working that we had spent the previous three years establishing across our network of 13 offices and hubs. At this point we adopted even more home-based working and provided colleagues with all the necessary equipment within a week.

The Birmingham office has been working with a new technology to ensure all staff are working in a Covid-19 Secure environment, with my co-head of the Birmingham office, Beth McArdle, leading on a project trialing ‘Base Camp’ through our Live Working platform – an online portal which allows colleagues to carry out and update an online risk assessment, book a desk and/or parking space and contains all information required for the office to operate to its optimum.

Beth and I and our other partners in the firm really are incredibly proud of how we’ve adapted– from the commitment and flexibility of colleagues, to the speed at which our IT and HR teams fast-forwarded our working from home ability and now developing our own solution to aid our return to work.

For me specifically it was also great to be involved in a project that would also change the way all of people manage their working lives, leading the initiative to develop Shoosmiths’ ‘Your How’ new working principles, which are:

  • Enhanced client experience

The key underlying principle is that client needs must continue to be met and the overall client experience enhanced. If we need to be flexible to achieve that, we will be.

  • Your ‘how’

Individual autonomy and responsibility underpins how we work. Managers do not impose their ‘how’ but account must be taken of supervision and development needs, as well as overall wellbeing.

  • The answer is ‘yes’

The assumption is that flexible working requests and/or working from home will be approved – the onus is now on the manager to make out a compelling business case as to why it cannot work at that time.

  • Output not occupancy

We are interested in output and performance not where or when people work. Use of tech takes precedence over use of floorspace. We trust you to deliver.

We have also enhanced our LegalTech proposition for clients under our ‘The New How’ initiative, led by Birmingham business advisory partners David Jackson and Tony Randle. This has been designed to help client businesses perform optimally in the new normal. Products such as matters+ revolutionises legal ops for in-house counsel; Live Working helps clients to stay up to date with the Shoosmiths legal team; Cia (Contract: Intelligent Analysis) is a brand new AI contract review and mark-up platform; and Readiness is designed to protect the value of a business and help prepare for a legal due diligence process. These products all save clients money and give them more time back.

This is what taking the opportunity for a radical refresh looks like – we know that all of this will improve working life for our teams, aid our diversity and inclusion agenda, increase our talent pool and enhance our client offering. This really is a game changer and it will be interesting to see whether other firms are bold enough to make similar announcements. This ultimately comes down to the fact that we trust the people we work with to make their own decisions and to get the work they need to do, done, however they see fit. It also comes down to our ability to listen to our clients and develop the tools they need to emerge from the pandemic positively.

For people who like what they see and want to be a part of it, we welcome conversations with local talent looking for a dynamic, innovative firm offering them a new way of working.