West Country firm Stephens Scown is to become the first UK 200 law firm to operate under a shared ownership model.
Last month, The Lawyer revealed that Mishcon de Reya managing partner Kevin Gold was considering implementing such a scheme, most famously employed by retailer John Lewis.
However, Stephens Scown has beaten Mishcon to the punch by winning approval from the Solicitors Regulation Authority to introduce the model.
The scheme will see all profits over a certain minimum threshold being put into a pool, with half retained by the firm and the rest shared equally among all participating members of staff, meaning that receptionists, for example, will receive the same bonus as qualified lawyer.
Last year, the average bonus at the firm was around £1,300. This year, Stephens Scown anticipates it will be in excess of £2,000.
A new company, Stephens Scown Ltd, has been created, which is a member of the LLP and is entitled to a share of profits equal to the bonus pot. The new company is owned by the staff through an employee benefit trust.
The scheme will come into force from 1 May 2016, though will apply to the bonus pot for the May 2015 – April 2016 financial year.
There will be an annual enrolment to the scheme on 1 May each year, with all employees out of their probation period eligible to apply, including trainees. Employees who leave the firm will be required to relinquish their interest.
“It has been a slightly tortuous route but we’ve got all the approvals,” managing partner Robert Camp told The Lawyer. “If we were a limited company it would be so much easier and we would have got tax breaks – but as a model it’s actually quite simple and I hope other professional service firms will see that.
“What was interesting from a staff perspective was that I had informal consultations about how they would want profits distributed. I expected people to want it to be merit-based or by seniority but the almost unanimous feedback was that people wanted an equal distribution, which surprised me because we all know how competitive lawyers are.”
He added: “I’m delighted that the new scheme has now been given the green light after several years of discussion and work. I believe it will have a tremendously positive impact on the firm. Back office support staff in particular will feel much more involved as we’ll all be working towards the same goal.”