Employee ownership: there’s no place like Scown

Stephens Scown is the first large law firm in the UK to give all eligible members of staff an equal share in its profits. In a sector which has traditionally seen partners alone share in the profits, it is a move which has attracted interest from across the UK – and not just from within the legal profession.

A first for the legal sector

The driving force behind the scheme is the firm’s Director of Strategic Innovation Robert Camp. He explains: “This type of approach is very new for law firms, but I have always tried to look outside the sector for best practice. I’ve admired John Lewis’s way of doing business for a long time, and have drawn inspiration from it.

“This is all about giving everyone who works here a real stake in the business. No matter what role someone has, we are all part of the same team and I felt that an equal sharing of profits was the best way to recognise this. Everyone’s contribution to the firm is equally important, and now their share of the profits is too.”

After several years of planning and discussion, Stephens Scown announced its plans in March 2016 after receiving official approval from the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority. The scheme came into force on 1 May 2016. The firm’s staff have chosen to call the scheme Scownership and given it the strap line, ‘there’s no place like Scown’.

Overcoming challenges

As a law firm, Stephens Scown faced additional complications when it introduced its employee ownership scheme. “The greatest challenge came from the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority as this is a completely new model of law firm ownership and satisfying their concerns regarding compliance and control required some innovative and complex proposals” explains Robert.

However, the firm’s persistence has been worth it, according to Robert: “Scownership definitely reflects the culture of the firm. We also hope that it will be a powerful motivator for staff and therefore have a direct impact on the growth and success of the business. We have a strong focus on client engagement here, and I firmly believe that happy staff give better service, which results in satisfied clients.”

Positive response

What has been the response from colleagues and customers to Scownership? “Our employees have welcomed the scheme. The fact that it is a way of treating everyone equally has gone down really well.

“I think our clients are impressed too. We are a company that is known for listening to our staff and treating them well. Our new employee ownership trust is another manifestation of that.”

What advice does Robert have for other businesses thinking about employee ownership? “Generally I would advise that you spend time getting the culture of the organisation right first and then create a scheme that fits in with that culture.  Do not create a scheme to try and change the culture.

“For other law firms who are considering employee ownership, the need to be deeply committed must exist. It is a much greater challenge for firms in the legal sector than for many other businesses, because of the level of professional regulation, so the intention to go for it must be embraced by all partners. You must expect the project to take some time, so don’t set unrealistic timescales.”

Robert emphasises the need to keep staff involved and up to date with the process: “This has been a journey that has taken us several years. From a very early stage we let staff know that this was what we were planning, so that we had their buy in and understanding. I think that level of communication is important so that staff understand and don’t feel like something new is being imposed on them.  My philosophy is to ensure that we explain to staff why we are doing something rather than just informing them what we are doing.”

Stephens Scown’s journey to employee ownership has not been easy, but it has been worth it according to Robert: “It has been exciting and rewarding to become the first large law firm to create an Employee Ownership Scheme, reflected in greater staff engagement, interest from clients and other professionals and considerable interest from people wanting to join the firm. I’m proud of what we have achieved with Scownership. I also know that there is much more that we can do and that this is just the start of another exciting journey for the Firm.”


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