Lawrence Stephens

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Steven Bernstein discusses the keys to continued growth in a law firm in Modern Law Magazine

March 2023

Co-Founder and Senior Director Steven Bernstein explores the development of Lawrence Stephens over the past 26 years, and discusses the importance of innovation, culture and entrepreneurship in growing a successful law firm.

Steven’s article was published in Modern Law Magazine, 17 March 2023, and can be found here.

In 1997, as businesses took their first tentative steps into the brave new world of the internet era, my two co-founders and I decided to make a similar leap into the unknown and establish our own firm. Despite the winds of change blowing through the commercial sector, the practice where we had been working retained an oppressive, outdated atmosphere and culture, which stifled our entrepreneurial spirit and our passion for fostering a positive working environment.

In other words, we wanted to create a people business.

Knowing full well the risks involved in starting a new business, we took strength from our collective ambition and zeal, and set up shop in a small 4-person office next to Oxford Street. Thanks to individual hard work and a committed group effort, the firm saw steady growth over the following years, as we focused on expanding our team through supporting the development of trainees and young lawyers, while also attracting lawyers from other practices impressed by our collegiate, familial workplace culture. This style of management proved a key factor in growing our business, and is an approach that still courses through the veins of the firm 26 years later.

Our main intention from the outset had been to create a firm which would allow partners and staff to have the independence and support needed to thrive, since it was the lack of such a culture at our previous employer that had stymied our own development as solicitors. By prioritising a supportive environment, we not only appealed to new talent, but were also able to nurture them throughout their careers, allowing both them and the business to flourish in tandem.

In this fashion, we were able to achieve steady growth over the next two decades, which was – counterintuitively perhaps – then sharply accelerated in the wake of the pandemic. The tragedy of the coronavirus outbreak was devastating for individuals and businesses alike, and we tried to play our part in assisting both staff and clients to cope during such a difficult period for the country. The only silver lining during lockdown was the move to working from home (WFH), which allowed hybrid and flexible working for staff, and meant we could expand our team without concern for physical office space requirements.

As a result, over the last two years the firm has doubled in size, both in terms of staff and turnover, in no small part thanks to our excellent retention rate of employees, who continue to value the care and attention shown by colleagues and management. They are also encouraged by the fact that my co-founders and I remain at the firm after more than 25 years, safe in the knowledge that the leadership have an unwavering commitment to the business and continue to play a key role in its growth and success.

Ever since our inception, we have recognised the importance of a safe, encouraging workplace culture for all of our colleagues to experience. We work to foster an atmosphere where staff enjoy their work, and also feel supported and heard by their peers and management alike. While taking a wholly serious and exacting approach to our work for clients, staff also feel that the firm is a fun place to work, and we recognise that their happiness is key to their success.

We have always strived to foster an egoless environment, where the team works as a unit, and staff are given independence instead of being subjected to an oppressive, hierarchical regime. All colleagues are treated with respect, and this helps ensure that we have remained successful in staff retention for so long. We also maintain a collegiate atmosphere through organising events for staff, such as setting up a house system akin to those in schools, in which the firm is divided into four houses which compete against one another in activities such as sports days and quizzes throughout the year to raise money for charity.

This culture gives staff a competitive edge and helps attract lawyers who buy into the firm’s ethos and see it as the best place for them to thrive.

We believe that skilled, valued and engaged employees are key for growth and vitality, as our own experience has proved. Our approach to employee wellbeing at Lawrence Stephens is a value aligned with our promises to our clients: that we are proactive, collaborative and personal. Among other initiatives, we created the Lawrence Stephens Wellness Project, which was initiated and led by an associate in our Real Estate Finance Department, who is also a certified Health Coach. By strengthening the holistic wellbeing of our staff, employee satisfaction and engagement rates have risen, and add to the general sense of workplace happiness present across all divisions of the firm. We strive to continually strengthen the wellbeing of our staff through this project, and by supporting their personal and professional endeavours in every way we can.

We take a hands-on approach to widening the horizons of our staff, for both their benefit and the firm’s. To that end, we established a professional networking event series, LawLinks, that is only open to trainees and lawyers qualified for less than 2 years, to give young professionals the chance to develop essential skills and learn from their peers. Recognising the impact of the pandemic on opportunities for face-to-face meetings and learning, LawLinks was established to bring people back together across all disciplines. We encourage our young staff to invite attendees, allowing them to connect with peers, colleagues and friends, and to develop new relationships at the same time. This approach reflects our wider commitment to our staff’s personal growth and development.

Our entrepreneurial spirit also led the firm to be selected by FE/BE (For Entrepreneurs, By Entrepreneurs) as part of their Growth 100 Project, which produces an annual list of the 100 fastest growing companies and thereby helps to identify, amplify and mentor growing business at various stages of their development. We were chosen as legal partners for the project not just because of our legal expertise, but also in recognition of the founders’ entrepreneurial spirt at the heart of our business, and our deep understanding of the issues and concerns faced by growing businesses.

For my part, the skills and lessons I have learned since setting up the firm and during day-to-day management have been manifold, and I retain a strong passion for sharing the knowledge gained with others seeking to chart a similar course as business-owners and entrepreneurs. My drive to build a successful business staffed by happy, confident employees is one of the keys to the firm’s growth, and we as a firm take great pride in the opportunity given to us by FE/BE to share our expertise with others.

As a business owner myself, I believe my greatest asset to be an ability to understand my clients’ businesses and key objectives through both an entrepreneurial and commercial lens. I strive to maintain an open-minded and approachable manner to ensure that clients’ objectives are met within the desired timeframe, and to exceed their expectations as well. This is aided greatly by my commitment to working collaboratively with my clients, and has always been a feature that we have sought to embed into the firm’s overall approach to its client base.

As a firm, our collective entrepreneurial attitude has also helped us build strong and lasting relationships with clients who own businesses, thanks to our ability to stand in their shoes and advise them how best to deal with any legal issues they face. Our first-hand knowledge of the challenges of founding and growing a business has, we believe, added real value to these clients, who take comfort from receiving advice from a team with a decades-long proven track record of growth and success.

This approach has allowed us to form long-term and close relationships with our client base, and we strive to remain by their side throughout the life cycle of their businesses. We show the same enduring commitment to their companies as we have always done to our own.

We plan to continue this growth over the coming years, using our tried-and-tested, highly successful model, as we continue to foster the firm’s excellent workplace culture, and help our colleagues grow and develop their careers.

From our humble beginnings, we have grown to become a substantial and powerful operation, constantly expanding and seeking further success. With our numbers continuing to swell, we are expanding our Farringdon premises, bringing in new systems and technology and undergoing a holistic rebranding. This upgrade will greatly assist in solidifying our position as a full-service law firm, able to fulfil all of our clients’ needs.

Lawrence Stephens’ entrepreneurial spirit will remain the key to our success over the coming years, with our drive and commitment being replicated by our staff, whose efforts have helped deliver so much success since our earliest days.