Nov 2017
Carbon Stories | #2: The Culture Story


When Carbon Law Partners decided to spruce up its Cardiff Hub, the team grabbed rollers and pots of emulsion and gave the place a lick of paint themselves. Even CEO Michael was spotted in overalls at the top of a ladder, paint brush in hand.

It sounds like a story straight out of the Silicon Valley (start-up) Playbook: a team getting stuck in with a can-do spirit. But for this start-up, the story of everyone painting the office isn’t a gimmick, it’s a genuine demonstration of the company’s family-like culture.

This strong bond not only fosters team spirit, it also drives productivity. “I like that we are always busy in the Hub, that we work at pace. We work hard but we also have a great laugh,” says Brand and Comms Manager, Judith Turnbull.

Judith joined Carbon as employee number one in March 2014 and has enjoyed developing professionally alongside the business. “Our roles grow as the business grows. What’s exciting is that the organisation evolves every time someone new comes on board. New personalities bring fresh ideas that we can learn from. So Carbon is never standing still.” Judith says she likes the freedom in her role and that she’s not constrained by a job title. Every member of the team has the chance to shape a role around their unique talents and personality.

“Since day one I’ve got involved in a bit of everything,” she says. She cites Michael’s leadership as one of the main reasons she enjoys working at Carbon.“Michael’s very encouraging. He gives you room to grow and helps you step forward.” That’s echoed by Michael’s own philosophy of the importance of creating the right conditions for excellence, enabling exceptional teams to collaborate and thrive.

Adele Carter is Carbon’s Lead Talent Scout. “When you walk into the Hub there’s an invisible thread that connects everyone. People here want the best for each other. That’s refreshing,” she says. “The Carbon culture extends across the organisation, from the Hub team in Cardiff right through to the lawyers, called ‘Partners’ who work from locations around the UK. But wherever people are based, everyone shares the same qualities: hard working, a positive outlook, a commitment to the Carbon family and a restlessness to keep moving forward. Here people take pride in what they do.”

Rob Heaton is Head of Operations. He says Carbon is very different from the law firms he’s worked at before. “Here you are trusted. There is less bureaucracy, more agility and you can make a real difference,” he says. “You are not just a cog in a machine, you’re not sitting at a desk pushing paper. That means you get more out of your role – and you like the job more.”

Michael also encourages staff to be creative when it comes to problem solving. Sarah Pomeroy manages the firm’s innovative IT platform. “Here you can ask questions. You can ask ‘Why?’ We didn’t do that at my last law firm,” says Sarah. “I don’t have any dread about coming to work. Here, I feel like I’m home.”

When it comes to recruitment, for a fast-growing business with a strong culture, getting the chemistry right is crucial. In job interviews Carbon seeks to understand the whole individual, discovering a candidate’s personality and values. Questions are asked around their passions, their social life and what gets them out of bed in the morning. Carbon likes to hold interviews away from boardroom environments and heads to cafés and bars to help the conversation flow.

The backbone of the Carbon operation is the bespoke IT platform that provides the interface – and a bridge – between the Partners who work remotely and the Hub team in the Cardiff office. It’s home to all the requisite files and forms, so the Partners can work effectively via an app and dashboard without the need to cart thick folders around. It’s a business platform in the Partners’ pocket.

The platform has an in-built social media tool – called Dougal – which brings people who work remotely together with those in the Hub. Dougal enables Partners and staff to interact, share information and post photos about their working day. It acts as the glue for the company culture: Partners working around the UK can share a laugh with those in the office. Nothing, however, beats face-to-face interaction and the company organises social events as well as an annual Partner meeting to which everyone is invited.

One factor that both unites and drives the team forward is the sense of being part of something bigger: they’re on a mission to disrupt the status quo with a brand-new approach to legal services. Everyone’s focused on that common goal. For a firm setting a new standard, having a clear vision of its future is vital. “We all believe in where we’re headed,” says Head of Talent Linda Bridge. “But disruption and change are constant in legal services at the moment, so we still need to keep moving.”

This desire to create a revolution in the industry keeps everyone on their toes. “We mustn’t get too comfortable,” says Judith. “That’s why we need Michael – his restlessness and ideas drive the business on.” Carbon’s mission to break with convention clearly excites people. “It feels good to be different and not conform. It’s exciting to be doing something out of the ordinary in an industry with a boring reputation,” says Adele. “We’re all really proud to be named as the ‘Number 1 disruptor in Legal Services’ by the Times’ publication Raconteur.”

At the heart of what it means to be ‘Carbon’ is a simple premise: being able to bring ‘the real you’ to work. Michael says that in the past he’d struggled to find an organisation where he could be himself. So he did what many entrepreneurs do, he started a business to fix his own headache. He created the type of place he’d like to work: Carbon Law Partners.

“I wanted to work somewhere where I could be ‘me’. The best way of doing that was to start from scratch and build my own business,” he says.

Penned by Ian Sanders | Twitter: @IanSanders