When Saleem Sheikh became Managing Partner of GSC Solicitors LLP in 1990, he saw an opportunity to shape a different sort of law firm: a “firm that has a heart”. In the latest in our series of GSC Stories, celebrating 50 years of the firm, Saleem explains why he felt a change of direction was necessary – and how he made it happen.
When I became Managing Partner of the firm, I felt I had more autonomy to make the business more diverse, to expand our portfolio of services and admit a new generation of like-minded partners.
We had, like many (if not most) law firms at the time, been a rather authoritarian organisation. I felt our staff turnover was too high and part of the reason for that was that we were not especially open to fresh ideas. We probably weren’t as welcoming or collaborative as we could have been.
I wanted to make it a friendlier firm, a family firm in the sense that everyone here felt invested in what we were doing and felt able to contribute. A place where everyone really did work as part of a team.
Of course, that can’t happen simply by saying it. You have to follow it through in your actions and in the structures and processes by which we operate.
At the small, personal level we engineered change by demonstrating greater respect for others, by being sensitive to their feelings, and by being honest and upfront with them. We celebrated birthdays. If someone had a significant anniversary with the firm, I’d remember it and acknowledge it. If they were having a tough time or had been ill, we’d send flowers or a basket of fruit. We took time to engage. At a business level we listened more often and more intently to what our people were telling us. We acted on suggestions.
Because I had been a junior member of my legal team in the early days, I had a good understanding of how to gauge the pace and manner of change. I felt I knew what the right moves were – and what the wrong thing would have been.
The change was almost instant. Immediately, you saw more smiles around the office, more people saying how touched they were with the gestures we made. Over a period of time – and not a long period of time – we saw staff turnover reduce. People said they felt much more a part of the GSC family. Loyalty is not something you can demand or expect automatically. It requires respect and openness for loyalty to flourish.
From our clients’ perspectives, I believe our shift in emphasis made us less of a transactional law firm. We weren’t simply the people to do a deal for clients who would then move on. We became much more focused on the long term, on building genuine partnerships with clients who saw (and see) us as an integral part of their lives and businesses.
I’ve often said that I believe our legacy at GSC Solicitors LLP is that we have created a firm with a beating heart – a law firm that feels. That is what has enabled our transition from ‘just’ lawyers to trusted advisors. I believe it is a major factor in our longevity.