Robert Camp is the Director of Strategic Innovation at Stephens Scown. He was appointed as the firm’s managing partner in 2011 and was instrumental in transforming the firm, which is now ranked among the best employers in the UK according to the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For survey. Robert has been described as ‘one of the most daring, innovative and creative lawyers’ in the UK and was listed in The Lawyer’s Hot 100.
In May 2016, Robert introduced an employee ownership scheme at Stephens Scown which has now been branded ‘Scownership’ by the firm’s employees. Stephens Scown was the first large law firm in the UK to make all members of staff eligible to enjoy an equal share of the firm’s profits on a pro rata basis.
In this episode of Innovation Insights Robert Camp talks about his vision for creating a different type of law firm. Furthermore, he is reinforcing the importance of embedding an innovation culture across the firm and the power of structured recognition programme that rewards employees for their hard work.
Robert also shares his views on open innovation and gives us some valuable insights into their recent partnership with Falmouth University which has been designed to help students scale their business ideas.
Below you can find the transcript of the interview with Robert Camp, Director of Strategic Innovation at Stephens Scown, discussing their innovation process within the law firm:
Charlie de Russet: Hi Robert, it’s a real pleasure to have you here. I’d really like to start off by asking you about your career and how it’s led you to this role today, where I understand you’re a Director of Strategic Innovation at Stephens Scown.
Robert Camp: A commercial property solicitor by training, I worked in the city, and then was really fortunate to have some time in Hong Kong and Sydney, and then back to London down to the west country. I have always liked looking at things outside of the box, thinking about things in a slightly different way. Lots of people including myself think I should never have been a lawyer.
C. d. R: And talk to me about examples in your career of pushing those boundaries and seeing reward from it that led you to this place that you are actually very confident that you are meant to be in innovation to this day?
R. C: That’s an interesting and tricky question actually. One of the things I’ve reflected on when looking back actually is that Innovation isn’t a “big bang idea” but lots of small things. I was fortunate enough to lead our mining and minerals sector. And it’s a very commercial switch-one sector, the clients actually know more about the sector than the lawyers do. They were always looking for innovative ways to structure deals, so I think it started there, thinking from the legal perspective – how can we make this more creative and innovative for the clients.
I suppose my journey to where we are now is I just started to go on courses and attending events where I shouldn’t have been, so really stretching myself. I love listening to other people’s stories, I love listening to other people’s ideas so I went through this process of going to anything I felt might be interesting and have value for the business. And even though I was mixing with people way out of my league, I could always bring that small nugget back, that we could maybe flex a bit but use, even if it was the magic circle firm who were doing it or just non-lawyers. So yes, it’s just always looking for stuff.
C. d. R: When we have spoken in the past, Robert, you have this really interesting vision of what a law firm should look like and it’s really wrapped around you people and clients. So how are you achieving this vision?
R. C: Yeah, I wanted to create a different type of law firm, and I wanted to focus on getting the best out of everybody. And everyone understood and had a key part to play in that business, but also that everybody should be allowed to succeed: if they wanted to change roles or develop themselves, they should really be allowed to do that. And that then leads to an engaged staff who then lead to exceptional customer service client experience, because all the research shows that if you’ve got a happy workforce you will have a better client experience
So we started on this journey and it took a long time to change the culture, lots of little things we did but I think the biggest impact was when we introduced the positive postcards, which are quite simple, so I think that was quite innovative. They are sent internally, can be sent either upwards or downwards and they are there to recognise when somebody has done something great, doesn’t have to be exceptional, but it’s something that they done well for the benefit of the business – can be bringing a really big client or answering a really difficult conversation on the call
C. d. R: Now, you’ve talked about a John Lewis model, you’ve got quite a cool name for it and I’d like you to share what the name of it is, because it is a clever play and creates an internal brand that people can relate to. Can you talk more about it?
R. C: So I wanted to engage all the staff and have them benefitting from the profit, so we created an employee ownership scheme, which we asked our staff what it should be called, and it’s called Scownership which is a play on Stephens Scown. And the way it works is we set a profit target and every pound above that target is split 50p between all the employees benefit trust and 50p to the partner still. It’s been transformational, it really has been.
C. d. R: What has it done for your attrition and things like productivity and I guess things like health and wellbeing of the firm? Just in general, have you seen and been able to measure it in any kind of way?
R. C: Yes, we have, and in particular with people who’ve joined in the last 2-3 years, so they actually joined because of who we are. Attrition has gone down dramatically, new recruits at the younger age, so 25+ just love it, people apply from all over the country who would have never normally have looked at the firm. We believe wellbeing has gone up all out internal polls have shown that. But also it’s the little things, because they’re much more interested in the business now, so from the business point of view it makes sense as well, because if everybody knows that if they can influence the profit, they are much more engaged in how a business runs.
C. d. R: The firm is extremely collaborative in the way it’s run both internally and externally. For those viewers that don’t know, open innovation is about inviting the outside users to help an organisation with their own innovation. Can you talk to us about what collaboration means at Stephens Scown, and some of these external relationships that you’ve got that are helping you to innovate better?
R. C: We are working with Falmouth University, who have got a launchpad outreach programme, which is for postgraduates looking to start new businesses and to scale them up over two years. I had a really good session with three of their people who came in and asked ,”what are the issues facing a firm like yours?”. So, we were talking about how a client could have continual access, and be much more informed about the process. They were quite excited and had gone away to think about it, and if they can come up with a concept that we can then start to develop, then we can then work with them on this concept. What’s interesting about that is, if they do come up with a concept, it’s their IP – we get a period of exclusivity, but then they can scale it as a business. We also get an opportunity to invest if we want to.
C. d. R: Now, being in quite a large firm, you are no doubt experiencing challenges most days, not all of them will reach you, but for those of them that do reach you, Richard, how do you capture them, and more importantly, how do you harness the brainpower of your people to help you solve them?
R. C: That’s a very interesting question, Charlie. We are in an interesting place here. Because of the Scownership and the empowerment, we are now creating and generating a lot of ideas across the business. This is great on the one hand of course, but people who have ideas can easily get disillusioned if those ideas are not listened to. There’s a lot of education around how you listen and then feedback and then say “actually, we are not going to do that”. But right now we are a bit in that vacuum, which is a dangerous place which I’ve recognised. Ideas are being generated, and we are struggling to assimilate them, refine them, and then report on where we go, and if we say yes, then how we then monitor progress. So looking at options outside of legal where we could use a tool that would help us in that process, which I think is going to be really key in making this imbedded within the business.
C. d. R: Robert, so kind of you to come over to London and talk about what innovation means to you, thank you so much!
R. C: Thank you!