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Law is my passion. However rewind fifteen years and that passion was being tested. As a solicitor I was on a path that demanded I sacrifice relationships, neglect personal goals and put my health and wellbeing on the back burner.
That didn't just seem unjust, it seemed like bad business. It's been twelve years since I and my cousin Chris, a fellow lawyer agreed that a massive opportunity was being missed.
That opportunity was to offer lawyers a way of working that focused on wellbeing as a conduit of success. Quite simply, we founded Setfords on the premise that happier lawyers mean happier clients. And it's working.
Meeting wellbeing head-on
Eminent psychologist Maslow suggested that a hierarchy of needs be met (see below) to ensure human happiness. Once our basic physical needs are taken care of, humans require opportunities for development, outlets of creativity, self-determination and social inclusion in order to achieve wellbeing.
The traditional way of legal working arguably works against this hierarchy. We sought to help lawyers meet those needs.
Working for, or against lawyers?
Physical needs: There is an intrinsic relationship between work and health. Stress kills - and lawyers have been found to have the worst mental health of all professions. Anxiety, depression and burnout can affect anyone, and are neither a sign of weakness nor an inevitable risk lawyers have to take.
We've countered overwork by ensuring that our lawyers determine their own, flexible hours, with remote working from anywhere in the world. We scrapped targets. As opposed to being judged for leaving the office on time, Setfords lawyers are supported to put health first.
Security: In 2008 the legal industry saw a raft of redundancies. The sector is still uncertain. We believe that the only real security a lawyer can achieve is by having their own client base, determining their own path. We enable lawyers to build their own business and ensure their own job security. With a fair and transparent fee-share structure recent issues linked to the gender pay-gap seen in traditional firms simply don't exist here. No matter a lawyer's background, this model offers security from bias and inequality.
Social: As a lawyer social stability can be hard to cultivate. With family relationships under strain from long hours, office politics can also pit colleagues against each other.
But with the ability to set their own career path, consultants can put family, and personal relationships first. As for office politics - this serves no purpose - in fact, Setfords consultants cite a key benefit of this way of working is a ready-made network of support.
Ego: It's a fraught path to partnership. For many the pressure, politics and hours of partnership don’t add up. Why not let lawyers determine their own measures of success, become their own boss and leave behind a rat race? When you have the ability to determine your own path, self-esteem and a sense of reward inevitably follows.
Self-actualisation: Dignity, achievement, and independence are among our most important human needs. That's why the rigidity of traditional law firms leaves so many lawyers feeling unfulfilled. We've changed that by putting lawyers in the driving seat.
Becoming a consultant enables lawyers to grow a business, learn new skills and live the lives they want. From flying aeroplanes, starting new businesses, spending time with family or travelling, life as a consultant allows exploration of ambitions, whatever they may be.
A way to go for wellbeing
While we're proud of the recognition our model has gained for changing the way lawyers work, we can always do better. New technology and a changing legal landscape will affect our development and approach to work.
Whatever the future brings, I hope our model demonstrates that a focus on happier lawyers rewards everyone in the industry. If there's one thing I can do to champion wellbeing for lawyers, it's to ensure our success encourages other firms to consider how freedom and flexibility can work for them.
Guy Setford co-founded Setfords in 2006 with cousin Chris Setford, both senior lawyers who set up the consultant-model firm to deliver a new way of working for lawyers that combines flexibility and freedom.
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