When asked to name disruptor companies, people mention Amazon, Airbnb, Uber, even Ryanair. Love them or loathe them – all are entrepreneurial organisations with leaders who saw a way to do things differently and went on to shake up the market.
Law firms are unlikely to feature on anyone’s list of disruptor organisations – unless you work in the legal profession in Scotland – but Gilson Gray does things very differently and has maintained its status as a disruptor firm, despite having pursued rapid growth and landed a raft of blue chip clients.
We set up Gilson Gray in 2014 because we had an ambition for a different kind of law firm; one that was supported by superb legal skills, but more agile, with fresh ideas, and a culture that resulted in a distinct differentiation in the market. At the sharp end – having refused to bow to the “aye been” traditions of Scottish law firms – we created a business model that has allowed us to offer more competitive pricing while providing top notch services.
Has it worked? By almost any measure we can demonstrate that it has. Client feedback is at the top of the market. We have a growing client list with low attrition and are one of the most profitable law firms in Scotland. Staff centricity remains a key principle and an intrinsic element to our operations model. Our financial strength has allowed us to pay market-leading bonuses and pay rises, attracting and retaining the brightest talent. And we design and offer fast career progression for those who want and warrant it. This affords advantage in a professional services market whose normal financial models require a more restricted approach.
I often get asked, what’s the key disruptor ingredient that keeps Gilson Gray thriving following such rapid growth? The answer relates to client and talent management and we apply significant time and resources to both. It’s a virtuous circle. Employing individuals with shared beliefs, looking after them, and keeping client care at the forefront, keeps clients happy and staff motivated. It’s more than solid service lines and benefits packages; our focus on wellness, culture, client care and communication has increased dramatically during the pandemic.
We work to find people who have a strong cultural fit. A recent campaign to recruit trainees used video animation and talked about their potential career trajectory, not about Gilson Gray. It looked nothing like a recruitment advert for a law firm and that’s the whole point. We had a 58% increase in applications compared to 2020.
We continue to bring in talent at the highest levels. Steve Herkes coming in as MD of Gilson Gray Financial Management and Calum Crighton as Head of Energy are strategic appointments that maintain our entrepreneurial edge.
That feeling of cultural connection resonates throughout is borne out by an employee survey – submitted anonymously on a third party platform – that tells us that 93% of our staff are happy at work, support the leadership team and our response to Covid. A result like that is almost unheard of for a law firm.
All staff helped us create a list of 20 objectives that we believe makes us the best law firm in Scotland. It covers profitability, work-life balance, quality of client service, and how we add value. We still live by these actions today.
But if you think this sounds like a bed of legal roses, be assured we made mistakes too. The pandemic revealed we had gaps in our care of staff. One related to encouraging positive mental health and we realised we needed better plans in place to support those who might appreciate extra help. We’ve done that now, but it was a wake-up call.
We also had challenges with high volumes of new clients amid the changing expectations brought about by Covid. We had to significantly increase staff numbers and systems capabilities almost instantaneously, but everyone responded superbly.
So how do you keep disruptor thinking going when the traditional measures of success signal the opposite? Social media has accelerated a trend for polarised views with no safe space to meet in the middle for constructive conversation. But we want to hear all opinions and believe everyone has something to contribute.
We are fortunate to be one of the most successful operations in Scotland – but while we think big, it’s -the small things we do that have the biggest positive impact. That’s the Gilson Gray way.