Nov 2017
Carbon Stories | #3: The Partner Story


Natalie Murray had fallen out of love with being a lawyer. She lived in Oxford and commuted to her job at a top London firm. The combination of having a young family, working long hours and a lengthy commute took its toll. “I had a moment when I asked myself, why am I doing this? How can I do what I love doing but differently?”

Within five minutes of meeting Carbon Law Partners’ head of talent Linda Bridge for a coffee, Natalie could feel her passion for law returning. She loved how Carbon would allow her to work flexibly from any location, supported by the firm’s innovative digital platform. Natalie could see how working the Carbon way would tick all her boxes: being given the freedom to work in line with her particular needs and being able to play to her strengths was the ideal solution. She joined them soon after that first meeting.

Just as Uber and Deliveroo have fuelled the ‘gig economy’ for drivers and couriers, now it’s the professional service firms that are being disrupted. Today lawyers, management consultants, accountants and other professionals are seeking the same opportunities to work for themselves and be in charge of their own destinies. At Carbon, lawyers get the best of both worlds: independence and flexibility, but also the chance to join a pioneering organisation that provides a back-office infrastructure through its bespoke platform. Plus there’s a strong family-like culture that fosters a great team spirit.

Linda Bridge explains that the traditional working environment in law firms can be frustrating and dictatorial, and that Carbon has created an alternative model whereby lawyers have autonomy and freedom to live and work the way they want. “We have created an environment where your job fits into your life, rather than the other way round. At Carbon we believe people can flourish if you just let them be their real selves. “Our job is to create and develop the conditions for this to happen.” she says.

A big part of what attracted Natalie was Carbon’s caring nature. When she met with founder Michael Burne, she was pleasantly surprised by how much interest he took in her
family and personal life. No-one had asked her about such things before in a professional context.

Carbon’s Partners work in whatever environment suits them, whether from home, at client offices or at Carbon’s office spaces in London, Bristol and Cardiff. Chemistry is more important than geography. So how do you get that chemistry right? Adele Carter is Carbon’s Lead Talent Scout who spends her time seeking out prospective partners. Whilst there is a core competency framework on which they hire, inevitably gut is also important.

Adele reveals the secret behind talent development. “We’re like a tribe. And that means you can work out who the other tribe members are! I browse LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and look out for interesting lawyers. I look for that edginess in language, behaviour and attitudes. I can spot someone so well,” she explains.

Like Natalie, David Martin left his previous role after becoming disillusioned. Working long days, David was frustrated with a model based on remuneration for the number of hours he put in. He felt the system created the wrong culture, one which wasn’t best placed to serve his clients’ needs.

When he met Carbon, David knew this was a way of working he could believe in. He was attracted by Michael’s rallying cry to shake up the legal industry and became a partner two
years ago. “It’s been liberating to not be curtailed or pressured by the old way of doing things,” he says. For David the flexibility is a significant plus point. “The ability to log-on and work from anywhere is brilliant. I can work from Carbon, from a client’s office or from my dining table at home. I’ve even worked with a colleague who was on the other side of the world.”

Its Partners are self-employed, however they don’t work in isolation. Carbon’s Hub is staffed by a team dedicated to super-serve the Partners. The Hub team check in with Partners every day, whilst the company’s internal social media tool Dougal fosters a sense of office camaraderie and allows for informal conversation.

As well as being a model that appeals to Partners, it also helps better satisfy its clients’ needs. Liberated from an outdated business model, the Partners are able to build deep relationships with clients that they could never have done in a traditional firm. It also means they can be more entrepreneurial in their attitude to pricing, where they balance
risk and reward. That flexibility in pricing is attractive to clients.

But whilst there is a Carbon way of doing things, it’s an organisation that is very much about allowing individuality to shine through. “We don’t want a cult of people, we want
individuals with different personalities,” says Linda.

Natalie has an artistic side, a quality that’s never been encouraged in her previous roles.
But that’s all changed at Carbon. Natalie creates a storyboard, a visual representation of every transaction or deal she works on. It helps her and her client understand where they are in the process at any given time. “Carbon has celebrated that creativity. They’ve encouraged my individuality.”

“When you can work with a smile on your face, it makes such a difference,” she says. “I admit I’d lost my passion for law. Joining Carbon meant I found it again.” David Martin agrees. “I can’t see myself moving from Carbon. Once you’ve found the best place, why would you move on?”

Penned by Ian Sanders | @IanSanders