Our co-CEOs, Guy and Chris Setford, look back on the most challenging (and most inspiring) year in the firm’s history.
At the beginning of 2020 we had two main objectives: change the lives of more lawyers for the better, and continue to grow our business. We had no idea it would turn out to be the most challenging year in our history – nor one packed with so many inspiring moments.
We always knew we had a brilliant team, those who combine talent with a can-do attitude and a genuine care for others. But even we were amazed at how those within Setfords reacted to a global pandemic.
As the year unfolded, time and again we found ourselves discussing how lucky we were to be surrounded by so many people of such high calibre. The resilience, the willingness to adapt, the wish to deliver in such difficult circumstances: quite honestly, it was awe-inspiring. By the end of 2020, we would reach new highs in turnover and customer feedback. We would launch a new department and win a very important award. But it’s the people who made it all possible that gives us the greatest pride. It’s certainly been a year we won’t forget.
By the time the lockdown was announced in March, we had our plan in place. For the consultant lawyers, it would be largely business as usual. Used to working remotely and with the technology to support them, tweaks were needed to how some documents would be signed, but for the most part their working lives continued as before.
The real change came for our support teams. Nearly all were sent to work from home and the technology on which Setfords has been built was put to the test. We can’t pretend there weren’t a few sleepless nights as we looked at ways to solve problems even the most forward-thinking firm hadn’t planned for. But solve them we did. Among those finding new ways to work together was the Business Development Team. Just weeks earlier they had won ‘Best in Field’ in Lexis Nexis Awards. And they continued to live up to that name, using technology to work together to generate the £5 million-plus in fees they deliver for our consultants annually. We had never been prouder of the entire 100-plus support team.
Like all firms, we had no real idea what COVID-19 would mean for our clients, the economy and our business. But within a few months it became clear that while some aspects of the economy had been terribly affected, the property market and other areas that needed legal support were continuing to thrive, and in some cases accelerating. And so too, was the interest in the Setfords consultancy model.
Between mid-March at the start of lockdown and June we signed 54 new lawyers – more than double the number that joined the firm during the same period the previous year. By the end of December a huge 121 lawyers had joined us. While some lawyers were facing a worryingly uncertain future, for many the pandemic had simply prompted them to take stock of their careers, and their wider lives. For those looking for greater earning potential and a better work-life balance, we were an obvious choice.
Work from anywhere and other benefits of consultancy
In June, we published a blog about working from anywhere. While many firms had been forced into allowing their lawyers to work from home, many were ill-prepared, and the majority failed to grasp the potential of this better way of working. We didn’t want this moment to pass without seeing real change in the industry. Everyone should be able to work in a more productive and healthy way. Because of our investment in the most sophisticated technology, our lawyers can work from multiple locations, not just their homes. Carol Lee runs a B&B in the beautiful Isle of Arran while working as a consultant. Dawn Brogan worked in Cyprus during one of her husband’s military postings.
True freedom is about choice, and that’s not just about where you work. During the summer we heard many reports of lawyers in traditional firms now working from home, but still being asked to hit unrealistic targets and work to set hours. That’s not freedom – no matter what the view from your window.
Consultancy at Setfords offers a different experience. There are no set hours, no targets, no one telling you when you should work or for how long. The lawyer doing the work is the person in control. More firms across the industry should be embracing this mindset for the good of their staff.
By July working life was getting back to some sort of new normal, and we were able to shift back to some of our planned projects, one of the biggest of which was launching our Wellbeing Department. The focus on the mental health of lawyers has been a cornerstone of Setfords from the beginning, but it seemed apt that during one of the most challenging times in modern history, we were able to formalise our work in this area. We won the Lexis Nexis Award for Wellbeing in 2018, but our new department takes our commitment to this area to a new level. Happier lawyers mean happier clients. The rewards are obvious.
Women in Law
In November we were honoured to be named Law Firm of the Year in the first Women in Law Awards 2020. The award for a small/medium firm was a tremendous moment for us as it was always our intention to create a company where everyone was treated equally regardless of age, gender or background. We now have in excess of 200 female lawyers – over 60% of our consultants – and we couldn’t be prouder of that. Much work still needs to be done to level the playing field within this industry, but at Setfords we are delighted to say everyone is equal.
Entering The Lawyer UK 200
We knew Setfords was growing at an unprecedented rate, but it was a milestone moment entering the UK 200, and at such a high position. In November it was announced we had been ranked 152, following an increase in revenue of 30% to £17.6 million. That same month we hit our highest ever month of turnover. If you had told us that would happen as the country went into lockdown in March, we might not have believed you. But the strength of our model and the professionalism of our lawyers and support teams have ensured Setfords could thrive. We now have 343 consultant lawyers – more than ever before – and a support team that exceeds 100 specialists.
A record-breaking year
2020 was a year for breaking records at Setfords. Many of our lawyers recorded their busiest 12 months to date. We had further good news when it comes to customer feedback. As well as having a 5-star rating on Trustpilot, we are now ranked number one in its Law Firms category – a momentous achievement and one our consultants and support teams are righty proud of. Delivering high levels of service has been helped by the launch of our new practice management system, PracticeEvolve. Using some of the most sophisticated technology on the market means a better experience for our lawyers as well as our clients. We were also able to reach a wider customer base than ever before, with more lawyers in more parts of the country.
Remembering what matters
Whatever the professional successes, it has sometimes been hard to focus on business, while the health of our family, friends and loved ones has been at risk. We have not gone untouched by COVID-19, and each time our colleagues, or their families, have been affected by the pandemic, it has given pause for thought about priorities.
Success at work is just one aspect of success in life, and the pandemic has again brought home to us just how important it is that we can have a career that aligns with our wider values.
We have always taken great pride in the Setfords model and how it enables a greater work-life balance. The flexibility often proves vital to our consultants, and never more so than in 2020. It has enabled us to continue to provide a service to our clients, while giving those that needed it, the time to attend to friends and family. We were honoured so many felt they could share with us so openly the difficulties they were facing.
There is no question that this year has brought some of the toughest challenges in all of our personal and business lives. But it has also shone a light on the inner strength of our family, friends and colleagues.
When we look at what our consultants and staff have achieved, it is hard to think of a time we have ever been prouder of the Setfords name (if you don’t count our attempts at home-schooling). And from what we hear from our fellow professionals, it has been a similar story in other firms. The legal industry doesn’t always get the credit we think it deserves, but we are sure we are not alone in feeling great pride in how our profession has responded to these most challenging of times.
2021 has not begun the way any of us expected or wanted, but we know that our lawyers and support staff at Setfords are ready to face any challenges head on. We wish you the very best for 2021.
Chris Setford & Guy Setford