Our Founder and Solicitor, Andrew Gray, reflects on his Quaker approach to business.
Five years ago, when my second child just several months old, I decided to leave my safe employment as a solicitor working for a large trade union law firm in order to set-up my own law firm.
What follows isn’t a boast, rather it is a fact: it is still highly unusual for such junior solicitor, as I was then, to set-up their own firm. I had only been a solicitor for four years! Looking back now, perhaps it was because of my sense of mission – thanks to my Quaker compass – which has powered my business.
Such a momentous decision required careful planning; risk minimisation to the highest level. In the months before I left safe employment, the more I read regarding how to set-up a successful business, and about how to dominate in online marketing, the more I realised that Quaker values were going to be the foundations to the firm’s likely success. After all, historically Quakers had been known to be brilliant business people, so all I had to do was to follow the numerous examples from Quaker history, right?
Since I was kindly asked to pen this piece, I have reflected on how and if my Quaker values have shaped my business. Forgive my list-structured points (us lawyers are very busy, don’t you know!): I regard the following points as integral to our non-failure.
- Our ethical approach – this week, I have been interviewing would-be trainee solicitors. When I ask them why they want to work with us, they tell me it is because of our “ethical approach”. Parking for a moment what is meant by an “ethical approach”, I can tell you that having a commitment to sound business ethics does set a business aside from its competitors. The “ethical approach” has not only attracted – and kept – brilliant members of the team, but it also is the hook for potential clients. It is our Unique Selling Point.
- Rejection of debt – although my law firm of course required some financial input from me, and the living of a fairly simple existence (for a middle-class person in the first world!) until it made a little bit of profit in year three, I have largely stayed away from overdraft facilities and commercial loans. As a result, our growth hasn’t been meteoric, rather the growth has been organic and steady. Organic growth is easier to manage. The firm may have grown faster had I borrowed more money, but such debt-fuelled growth would, in my view, have been foolhardy.
- Speedy payment of invoices – one of the best pieces of business advice which I received came from the entrepreneur, James Caan. He argued in a podcast: if you receive an invoice from a supplier and you are happy with the work, pay it immediately. By doing so, we have engendered trust with our suppliers, which has meant that they tend to like working with us. And when they like working with us, we tend to get a better level of service.
- Transparency – although we are certainly not perfect on any level, we do endeavour to be transparent with clients, regulators, suppliers and colleagues – everyone. Our logo is a ring. I would like to think that people who know our business, understand who we are, what we do, and what we are all about.
- Collaboration – although I remain the only shareholder (which makes me somewhat uncomfortable) in terms of making key decisions, I listen to my colleagues’ opinions. It isn’t exactly Quaker business method, but we don’t vote and do look for consensus wherever possible.
- Pro bono legal advice – I distinctly remember that when a Polish-speaking legal assistant joined he couldn’t understand why we provided so much free legal advice to migrant workers. If you ask him today, he would say that the more free advice we give away, the more new enquiries we receive, some of whom become paying clients. Bad news may travel fast, sure, but in my experience good news travels faster.
I leave you with this anecdote.
Just before I went to sleep on the night before I came up with my firm’s name, I was reading all about the history of Quakerism. During that read I discovered that Quakers had previously been known as Friends of Truth. At 4am the following morning, I awoke: I decided to call my law firm Truth Legal. I don’t much like the name, but it does tell the reader what you might expect from your interactions with us.