Joining up the dots

Staff at UK law firm Stephens Scown, a regional heavyweight in Cornwall and Devon, stand to gain a 50% share of net income this year when profits go above a fixed level – one of many measures aimed at encouraging greater engagement. Managing partner Robert Camp and Mandy Reynolds, director of marketing, talk to Neasa MacErlean about their pioneering ways.

Robert Camp Mandy Reynolds

Robert Camp had to run an election this year. The new Shared Ownership scheme – introduced to give the majority of the 243 staff a collective half share in the profits over an agreed threshold – requires the presence of employee trustees/directors in the Corporate Partner of the LLP. Those posts have been oversubscribed by employees willing to fill them – a sign of the popularity of the scheme which paid out an average of £3,000 per staff member for the year to May. The arrangement has been “very well received” by the employees, he says, and there has also been “interest from clients and other businesses”.

The City Council at Exeter is one of various employers which have asked to speak to Stephens Scown about the scheme and engagement issues. The organisations are particularly interested in Camp’s claim that the arrangement is producing results in “client service and staff engagement”.

The scheme was put in place last year by the firm’s 56 partners. It paid out about 3.4 per cent of the firm’s turnover of £17.85m. For this year, a (confidential) target figure for profits has been set and all staff know they will divide between them half of the sum over that trigger point. This is the culmination of a three-year focus in the three-office practice which aims to help clients in their ‘business, financial or family life’. Since the start of the current financial year, on 1 June, staff have been highly focused on working together to exceed the Shared Ownership threshold, says Camp. This means that they are particularly committed to other initiatives Stephens Scown has introduced – such as a ‘marginal gains’ drive. Like athletes trying to improve their performances by shaving a second off a run time, the teams are concentrating on very specific steps which enhance the firm’s service delivery. “If an individual can achieve a small marginal gain, for example an extra six minutes of chargeable time a day,” he says, giving one example, “that has a big effect on the bonus.”

Working alongside Camp, Mandy Reynolds is also thinking marketing through from basic principles. For instance, she has organised a mystery shopping exercise on the firm but, to make it as effective as possible, agreed with the managing partner that the partnership would only find out about the arrangement afterwards. At that stage Client Service Action Groups were set up to work through the issues that emerged, both positive or negative ones.

Reynolds also orchestrated a brand definition initiative in 2015 – but she thinks it is crucially different to the way such rethinks are usually carried out. “Ours is authentic,” she says. “Most people look at what clients want when they set their values. We looked internally at who we are in order that our external messages could be set up to match that.”

Joining up the dots is also a hallmark of the firm’s management style. For instance, both the managing partner and the marketing head are working on the shared goal of delivering ever-better client relationships. Another example, with the nineperson marketing team, is the way digital marketing is integrated into all the firm’s activities, not treated as a standalone activity. Reynolds gives the example of the recent recruitment of a multi-media assistant who works on animation and videos for the marketing team and within recruitment, training and other parts of the practice. The marketing team takes a campaign approach to most events – rarely issuing a press release on its own, for instance, but usually carrying out several activities together, including tweets, Instagram posts, events and internal communications.

In fact, the firm runs campaigns as a way of sustaining a message or supporting a cause long-term and also of showing Stephens Scown’s dedication to the initiative. Working with “a large number of farmers, landowners and estate managers”, the practice began a campaign last year to support dairy farmers in the region, particularly over the prices they were receiving for milk. This campaign had numerous elements to it – including a dedicated website (, a survey of 1,000 people, local celebrity involvement and a photo gallery promoted through Twitter. (The campaign won the MPF Award for Best Collaboration with Clients this year and was featured in the June 2016 issue of PM.)

This summer the practice launched another campaign, also using a broad idea as its central theme. ‘Love Where You Live’ is a celebration of Devon and Cornwall, and gives suggestions as to how to get the best from the area and its “hidden gems”.

Neither Camp nor Reynolds pointed to the long list of prizes that Stephens Scown has won – particularly in the area of employee satisfaction – during their interviews with PM. They tended to focus on issues that differentiated them from the mainstream. So Reynolds gave her views on artificial intelligence – “the biggest issue coming up” – and how “certain legal questions could be given pre-prepared answers” as an efficient way of providing some basic advice. “It’s the firms that rise to the challenge of artificial intelligence which will do better,” she says.

Devon and Cornwall, their farmers and other sectors, will also be much affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU. A proactive practice like Stephen Scown might be expected to work hard now to press release all the issues surrounding ‘Brexit’. Not so. While it extensively discussed the issue before the vote, it is now taking a quieter approach. “We are trying to cut through the noise,” says Reynolds. “We will be saying what people need to do but we won’t be in the business of speculating. Less is more.” Perhaps this is one reason why clients find Stephen Scown engaging. Its pioneering approach makes it an interesting firm and one that is not always predictable.