People first, laywers second

Gordons’ partner Victoria Davey explains why understanding clients as people sets her law firm apart and sits at the heart of being able to successfully help them achieve their personal and commercial goals.

A better kind of different

Yorkshire’s legal marketplace is crowded and highly competitive, so how can firms stand out and attract and retain clients? It’s a question law firms constantly ask themselves, but all too often they end up communicating similar marketing messages focused on services and capabilities.    

According to Gordons’ Victoria Davey, this approach misses a key point by not addressing the real world needs and wants of clients.    

“There is a huge amount of navel-gazing in the legal sector that stops firms empathising with their clients and understanding what either excites them or, as importantly, keeps them awake at night,” she said. “The fact is most law firms’ services, and capabilities are similar. The difference – and it is a massive difference – is how these services and capabilities are delivered and how lawyers are able to benefit clients by advising on subjects and situations often unrelated directly to the law.”  

Clarity, not complexity  

Victoria speaks from experience having been instrumental in shaping Gordons’ distinctive way of providing legal services to create commercial advantage, solve problems and plan for future events. She is the most senior woman in Gordons’ history having joined the firm’s three-partner executive board in 2007.   

Victoria continued: “What we have known for a very long time at Gordons is that it’s not businesses that are our clients, it’s the people who own or manage them. Rather than thinking of clients as purchasers of legal services, we think of them as people with hopes, concerns and aspirations.  By understanding them as people, we understand what drives their thinking and what they want to achieve professionally and personally. The two objectives are often linked, so by concentrating on the client as a person, it enables us to advise with clarity and certainty on complex matters to deliver favourable outcomes. We work very hard to establish deep client relationships because we know by walking in their shoes we can plan and react to situations in an ideal way for their particular set of circumstances.”  

Person-to-person, not lawyer-to-client  

With a different type of approach to other law firms, it follows that Gordons’ lawyers must also offer something out of the ordinary. It all comes down to some fundamental characteristics that can often be eroded when people train as lawyers and can be further diminished when they embark on legal careers.  

“When we recruit, whether it’s an apprentice or a partner, we apply our maxim of ‘people first, lawyers second’. Academic and technical ability are pre-requisites for any role at the firm, but so is high emotional intelligence. This is because we know our clients need people able to empathise with them, clarify rather than complicate and make things happen.  

“We want our firm to be full of talented people with a great attitude and approach, so we don’t care where they start out in life or what school they went to. This thinking led us to create our multi-award winning Gordons Apprenticeship Programme, which was the first of its type in the legal sector when it launched in 2011.”  

This year saw the programme celebrate its first graduate when 23-year-old Bryony Russell qualified as a chartered legal executive employment lawyer.   

A nationwide survey by careers advice company, placed Gordons in the UK’s top 30 higher apprenticeship employers and in the top 100 employers for school and college leavers for 2016-17, a list which included Barclays, National Grid, JP Morgan, Bentley Motors, PwC, BBC, Sky and IBM.    

‘Our clients state our case.’  

The ‘people first, lawyers second’ approach has also seen the firm form long-lasting relationships with some of Yorkshire’s leading business people and organisations, including advising Bradford-headquartered supermarket chain Morrisons for over 50 years. The firm has made a virtue of the strength of its relationships and commitment to always putting its clients’ interests first with its ‘Our clients state our case’ marketing campaign which first appeared in 2009.  

One client to feature in the campaign was John Tordoff, chief executive of £1.2bn turnover Bradford-based motor retailer JCT600. Commenting on the firm he said: “We’re a long-standing Gordons client because its people understand our business, use plain English and offer a joined up commercial approach to the law – just what a business like ours needs.”  

With an established reputation within the retail, food and drink, and leisure and hospitality sectors, Gordons is further expanding its client base regionally and nationally. Despite differences between various sectors, Gordons’ approach is proving universally popular across all of them.  

The firm advises York-based footwear retailer Pavers on a wide range of property and commercial matters and deals directly with managing director, Stuart Paver. He defined the Gordons difference when he said: “Gordons’ lawyers are accessible and approachable human beings who are very easy to work with and who understand our business. We’d certainly recommend them.”  

Another participant in the firm’s ‘Our clients state our case’ campaign was Keighley brewer Timothy Taylor’s chief executive, Tim Dewey. He focused on the practical way Gordons’ people apply their advice when he said: “We use Gordons because of the breadth of their service; their ability to understand our business; and their ability to deliver what we need quickly and efficiently.”  

Staying ahead  

With a clear understanding of what makes the firm different and how to provide an altogether more personally relevant, highly effective service, Gordons has set itself apart in the legal marketplace. However, as Victoria explains, there is no room for complacency at the firm.  

“We know that our success is intrinsically linked to that of our clients. We think and act entrepreneurially on their behalf to create a commercial advantage for them,” she said. “We never lose sight of the hard benefits that we are there to deliver, so we constantly evolve and enhance the ways we work with every client we have.    

“By combining the strength of the relationships we build with smart ways to provide a competitive edge, we will remain trusted as people and valued as lawyers.”